Tunisian England-Argentina referee praises 'wonderful' Maradona as Arabs mourn
The Tunisian former referee who officiated the controversial 1986 England v Argentina World Cup clash has praised football legend Diego Maradona, who passed away on Wednesday, as a "wonderful and modest person".
Ali Ben Nasser controversially allowed Maradona's "Hand of God" goal against England in Mexico to stand.
Argentina went on to beat England 2-1, with Maradona scoring both of his country's goals. Maradona's second, non-controversial, goal is regarded as one of the greatest of all time.
On Wednesday, Ben Nasser gave an interview to The New Arab’s Arabic-language service, saying "I was really affected by the news of the death of Maradona and I was worried about him after he had a surgical operation. He's a wonderful and modest person and I'm really honoured to have seen his creativity during the Mexico World Cup".
The Argentine football legend died two weeks after having brain surgery.
The retired Tunisian referee, who is now 76, recalled Maradona's second goal in the 1986 match, which has been called the Goal of the Century.
"During the Argentina-England match, and particularly during the second goal, I ran for a long time after Maradona to watch his moves, and I felt sorry for the opposing defenders. He crossed 50 metres and got past three players and when he faced the goalkeeper his frightening physical strength helped him to keep the ball away from him and score a beautiful goal," Ben Nasser told The New Arab’s Arabic service.
Read more: Maradona - 'In my heart, I am Palestinian'
Ben Nasser also defended his allowing of Maradona's "Hand of God" goal against England, saying he was only carrying out FIFA's orders.
"Before the World Cup, FIFA told us to follow the opinion of the linesmen if their positions were better than that of the main referee. My linesman insisted that the goal was legitimate despite my suspicion that Maradona had used his hand to confuse the goalkeeper.
"The Bulgarian linesman [Bogdan Dochev] was convinced that day that the goal was correct, but two years later admitted his mistake and told me that he hadn't been able to tell the difference between Maradona's hand and the hand of English goalkeeper Peter Shilton. I don't bear responsibility for this goal, because my position was far away. For this reason, I carried out the instructions of FIFA."
On 28 August 2015, Maradona travelled to Tunisia to film a commercial and visited Bel Nasser at his home.
"That was a day I'll never forget," Ben Nasser said.
"We had a great time and he was a really gentle and modest person. He told me that I was to thank for his scoring of the beautiful second goal, because I gave him the advantage when he was tackled by the English players."
Ben Nasser replied to Maradona at the time, "I believe that you won the World Cup, not Argentina, because you shined throughout the tournament, particularly during the quarter-final".
Ben Nasser was not the only person in the Arab world to have fond memories of Diego Maradona. Thousands of people in the Middle East and North Africa region took to social media to mourn the death of the legend.
In rebel-held north-western Syria, a large portrait of the footballer was painted on a bombed-out building.
Arabs appreciated Maradona's support for the Palestinian cause as well as his footballing prowess.
In 2014, he said "In my heart I am Palestinian.. I am a defender of the Palestinian people, I respect them and sympathise with them, I support Palestine without fear".