THE DAY THEY MET MARADONA

World Cup Russia 2018

Now there’s just two teams in the running to hold the 2018 FIFA World Cup; France and Croatia.

But it’s not all over yet for the plucky Belgians and perennially unlucky Brits, who were both beaten in the semi-finals, as they’ve still got to play off for third and fourth places.

So we thought we’d take a look at the four remaining teams in the competition and see what makes them tick and what got them onto the big stage of the greatest game on earth.

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BELGIANS will always rue the day they came across Diego Maradona.

The Red Devils as they’re known, had been knocking around the Cup since its inception, but rarely making it past the first stage.

In 1982 they made their presence felt with a stirring 1-0 win against defending champions Argentina, with a young Maradona on his first, but disappointing World Cup outing.

It was instead a stunning hat-trick by Polish striker Zbigniew Boniek that brought their dream run to an end.

But they had momentum, and in 1986 everyone took note when they knocked over the favourites, the Soviet Union, with an incredible fight-back after conceding yet another World Cup hat-trick in the second round.

They came up against the fancied Spaniards in the quarter final, and after stoppage time the score was 1-1 so they lined up for penalties, barely able to walk.

The Belgians held their nerve, and when Van der Elts smashed his past the keeper, they’d put in all five shots and were through to the semi-final for the first time.

And that’s where they really encountered The Golden Boy.

This was not the youngster of four years ago. Maradona made history twice in the quarter final against England. The first perhaps not so gloriously with the Hand of God goal, where the diminutive striker appeared to soar above tall English keeper Peter Shilton to score a goal, but had really helped the ball in with his hand.

But there was nothing shady about his second goal, a weaving masterpiece which has since been voted the goal of the century. Maradona bamboozled four English players, shimmied past Shilton and slotted the ball into the goal – he was clearly at the height of his powers.

There was more Maradona magic as he took apart Belgium in the semi-final. His opening goal in the 51st minute was sublime as he somehow found space between two closing defenders and the keeper.

Another simply astonishing run through the entire Belgian defence in the 63rd minute sealed the deal, leaving them gob-smacked as he did his celebratory run.

It’s taken some time for Belgium to recover from Maradona, but this year they knocked over big-hitters Brazil in the quarter final and held themselves well against France, conceding just the one goal in the semi. They’ll now play off for third or fourth place.

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