'It's the first World Cup without Maradona and you can feel it' – Burruchaga

Getty Images

Jorge Burruchaga believes "you can feel" the absence of former team-mate Diego Maradona at the first World Cup since the ex-Argentina captain's death in 2020.

Maradona, who skippered La Albiceleste to glory in 1986, was remembered at an event to mark the second anniversary of his passing from a cardiac arrest at the age of 60.

Burruchaga – also part of that victorious side in Mexico 36 years ago – paid tribute to "a unique legend," whose presence he claims can be felt among his former team-mates.

"The last time we spoke was a couple of months before his passing," the former attacking midfielder told La Gazzetta dello Sport.

"We reunited when I returned to Argentina to coach Gimnasia La Plata. I can't say we were close friends, perhaps we had a closer bond on the pitch than off it, but we respected each other after a long path together.

"This is the first World Cup without him, and you can feel it. He is a unique legend, football lost its most valuable treasure. But I can feel his presence here among us, and I am not being rhetorical."

Burruchaga and Maradona combined for the winning goal in the 1986 final victory over West Germany, who recovered from 2-0 down to level at 2-2 with six minutes remaining at the Azteca Stadium.

The mercurial Maradona's perfectly weighted first-time throughball released Burruchaga, who raced away from the defence before scoring to seal their nation's second World Cup triumph.

"Diego was angry after Germany’s equaliser and told us a few things," the 60-year-old remembers. "We were up by two goals, I am not saying it was an easy match, but we had it in hand.

"Diego saw an upset Jorge Valdano [after Germany’s equaliser], but told him: 'No worries, we are going to win this.' And he made us win. After my goal, he celebrated and looked to the sky. I was so proud to see him happy thanks to my strike."

Argentina's latest quest for a third title – and what could be Lionel Messi's final shot at glory – began with a shock 2-1 defeat by Saudi Arabia in Group C, from which they will seek a response against Mexico on Saturday.

The ultimate prize in football is the only one missing from Messi's well-stocked cabinet, but Burruchaga hopes that will be rectified this year.

He added: "Over the last 40 years, the God of football has been Argentinean, and Messi would deserve the World Cup to crown an extraordinary career."