Tunis, Dec 6 (efe-epa).- Ali Bennaceur, the Tunisian former referee who allowed Diego Maradona’s infamous “hand of God” goal to stand, has returned to the field to referee and pay tribute to the late Argentine football legend.
Bennaceur considers Maradona, who died last month at the age of 60, to be not only the best in the world for his technique and character but also as an “eternal friend” who visited him at his home in Tunisia to thank him for “the most famous mistake in the history of the world”.
At the age of 77, and despite having undergone two heart surgeries, Benneceur took up the whistle again and was greeted on Saturday with applause at the grounds of the “Agfa By Coerver” academy, champion of the Junior League in the Tunisian capital, where the first edition of children’s “Maradona Cup 2020” was held, in honor of the player affectionately known as “The Fluff” and the man who did not see God extend his hand.
Organized by the Embassy of Argentina in Tunisia in collaboration with Efe, the match brought together dozens of children who enjoyed a joyful and hard-fought day of soccer that organizers hope will be repeated every year in honor of the Argentinean legend.
“I was lucky enough to referee the best players in history, but none like Maradona. He was a very special person on the field,” Bennaceur explained to Efe before greeting the captains of both teams, posing for photos and blowing the starting whistle, as he did 34 years ago at the Azteca stadium in Mexico.
THE HAND OF GOD
Born in Tunisia in March 1944, Bennaceur was already a controversial referee in his country when FIFA selected him to referee the famous quarter-finals of the 1986 World Cup. The game would go down in history, both for the “goal of the century” and “the hand of God”, seismic footballing moments that starred Maradona at the height of his controversial career.
“When he came to see me I told him that the World Cup had not been won by the Argentinean team, it was won by Maradona,” he said among dozens of fans who came to him to ask him to sign photos of that sweltering summer’s day in 1986.
For years, Bennaceur has insisted that he did not see the controversial goal scored with his fist “because both Maradona and Shilton (England’s goalkeeper) had their backs turned” and that he only did what FIFA had recommended to them in the pre-World Cup course: “trust the opinion of the one who was better placed”.
That was none other than his Bulgarian liner, Bogdan Dochev, who did not raise his flag to point out any infringement, so the Tunisian allowed the goal amid the protests of the English players and an incredulous Peter Shilton.
Years later, Dochev contradicted Bennaceur’s version of events, and said that FIFA prevented the assistants from discussing the decisions of the main referee.
On August 17, 2015, Bennaceur was visited by the Argentinean star, who gave him one of his signed jerseys and called the Tunisian his “eternal friend”.
It was an encounter that he revisited with the boys of Coerver Agfa to whom he said that to be as big as Maradona not only it is necessary to have similarly excellent technique, but to have “an overwhelming personality”, something that Bennaceur said is missing in Lionel Messi.
“He led his team to victory, and the team gave him the ball. He dominated the whole field with his presence”, he told the captains, Iago Martin and Hamza L, before handing them the cup in the presence of the Argentinean ambassador in Tunisia, Claudio Ronzacwaig, who promised to continue cooperating with the Tunisian authorities so that this would be the first of many editions of the “Maradona-Bennaceur Cup” in Tunisia. EFE-EPA