maradona860629ap

Diego Maradona of Argentina holds the World Cup trophy aloft after leading his country to victory in 1986. ((Carlo Fumagalli/Associated Press))

Scott Morrison is a 25-year veteran hockey journalist and recipient of the Hockey Hall of Fame's 2006 Elmer Ferguson Memorial Award. Morrison appears as an analyst on CBC'S Hockey Night in Canada and keeps hockey fans on top of all of the breaking news from the world of hockey with reports, columns and blogs on CBCSports.ca.

Thinking back to the 1986 World Cup in Mexico, which I had the good fortune to cover, there are obviously several memorable moments.

First, the spectacle of World Cup itself really is quite breath taking — from the size of the crowds, to the passion of the fans, to the brilliance of the soccer. Even if you aren't a great fan of the sport, even if you don't completely understand the nuances of the game, when you see it played at the highest level, it is impossible not to appreciate it and enjoy it.

And it was impossible not to be swept up by the spectacle when, for all the big games in the tournament, you sat in a press area in the midst of 114,000 fans in Mexico City's Estadio Azteca, watching all of this unfold.

Canada at the big dance

You might recall that Canada qualified for the World Cup for the first time ever in 1986, although it lost all three matches and didn't score a goal, shut out 1-0 by France, and 2-0 by both Hungary and the Soviet Union. But it was a huge accomplishment nonetheless to advance to the world stage.

That tournament will also be remembered for the thrilling final, in which Argentina held off the Germans 3-2. But it was a quarter-final encounter that was even more memorable than the final for several reasons.

It was a stunning match between Argentina, led by the incomparable Diego Maradona, who was at the pinnacle of his brilliant career, and England. Now, the stakes were high enough obviously, but there was additional intrigue and drama because memories of the Falklands War four years earlier were still quite fresh. Obviously, football and war are not on the same level, but there was an additional level of pride and passion involved.

That match, of course, included the infamous "Hand of God" goal, in which Maradona opened the scoring in the 51st minute by palming a ball out of the air over England's goalkeeper Peter Shilton. It was clearly a handball, but the referee somehow missed it and the goal stood. Maradona went on to score again, four minutes later, on a brilliant run through half the English team, but it was the first goal that had people talking.

Asked afterwards about it, all Maradona would say, was a quote as infamous as the goal itself:

"A little with the head of Maradona and a little with the hand of God."

You can imagine the reaction of the English over that comment.

Twenty-four years later, of course, Maradona is still making headlines, promising to run naked through the streets of Buenos Aires should his team win the World Cup this year.

Diego lifts Argentina to victory

I can remember hooking up with a few other Canadian journalists and heading off to the Argentine practice, either before their semifinal with Belgium, which they won 2-0, or the final with Germany.

I was struck by how solid Maradona was physically, but also by how short he was, which made the "Hand of God" goal even more remarkable. I was also amazed by how we, along with a small group of European media, were able to get an audience with Maradona, who was to football at the time, obviously, what Wayne Gretzky was to hockey, the best of his time.

He went on to win the Golden Ball as the tournament's best player, though after scoring twice in the quarters and twice in the semis, he didn't score in the final.

Anyway, I wound up spending a month and a few days in the Mexican capital that summer, in the heat and the incredible smog that hovered over the city, sometimes affected by the altitude just climbing the ramps in the stadia. I remember admiring the beauty and the history in the downtown area, but also being overwhelmed by the congestion of the traffic and the stunning poverty that surrounded the city, which had been struck by an earthquake a year earlier.

And, yes, like most everyone else who covered that tournament, no matter how hard you tried, inevitably you got Montezuma's revenge. Mine arrived early, lasted exactly 24 hours and included a high fever, but was then gone for the duration of the tournament.

Over time, of course, you pick up on the language but three of the most important words I learned came on the first day: Margarit sin hielo. Which means, a Margarita without ice (to avoid the water and Montezuma's revenge).

For so many reasons, it was an incredible experience covering that tournament, one I will never forget.