How Wade tried to 'freak out' Maradona before marking him in FIFA World Cup play-off
Former Socceroos captain Paul Wade has recalled what it was like to mark Diego Maradona and the ordeal he went through to obtain his shirt.
In 1993, Australia were handed the daunting task of facing Argentina in a two-legged playoff to reach FIFA World Cup USA 1994.
The names on the Argentinian team-sheet were frightening: the likes of Fernando Redondo, Diego Simeone, Gabriel Batistuta and of course, the great Maradona.
The first leg on Australian soil finished 1-1 and Wade – who captained the Socceroos from 1990 to 1996 – was given the undesirable task of marking one of the greatest players of all time.
"I was given the job two weeks out," he told Socceroos.com.au.
"They told me that I was going to mark Diego Maradona and I didn't get a wink of sleep for two weeks because I was thinking of all the things that he did for Napoli and Argentina."
Wade admitted that watching Maradona’s previous two World Cup qualifying matches helped to calm his nerves and focus on the task at hand.
As expected, Australia were heavy underdogs in the clash but that did not stop the Socceroos captain from trying to psych out one of the greatest players of all time.
"I'm standing there in the tunnel, he's standing next to me and I thought now do I look tough? Or do I say something encouraging?
"You know what I did? I said, 'happy birthday' because it was his birthday and I thought that would put him off.
"I thought he would freak out because he was at a World Cup qualifier and someone’s wishing him a happy birthday."
Unfortunately, wishing Maradona a happy birthday had the opposite effect because it was the Argentine star who created the opening goal despite Wade tackling him in the process.
"The one tackle I did win, they scored a goal from," he recalled.
"He was going down the right-hand side, I just got across to tackle and the ball fell to Milan Ivanovic.
"Maradona got straight up, chased it, got it off him, crossed it and they scored.
"I was devastated."
Wade said he had reflected on the match many times and admitted that he "really had no chance" of matching it with Maradona, even with the Argentinian coming back from a drug suspension.
"I look at some of the footage and he was just toying with me.
"I can't imagine what it would have been like playing against the 1986 Maradona.
"Every time I got close to the ball, he would be gone or he would flick it around me."
Despite being involved in the goal in the 1-1 draw, he said one of the most disappointing aspects was not being able to swap shirts with Maradona on the pitch.
When he approached the Argentina captain immediately after the final whistle, he was disappointed to find out the shirt had already been promised to somebody else – but that did not stop Wade from getting his way in the end.
"I had walked around him for 90 minutes, I wasn't going to let him go without getting his shirt," he remembered.
"So, I went and stood outside their dressing room and just waited.
"Fortunately, somebody went in, got it and brought it out."
Wade even turned down Real Madrid icon Fernando Redondo’s shirt whilst trying to hunt down his prized possession.
Even though the Socceroos were beaten by Argentina in the second leg, the shirt takes pride of place in his collection and he will forever be known as the man who marked Diego Maradona.
Click here to watch Paul Wade share stories from marking Diego Maradona in the FIFA World Cup 1994 play-off on Friday from 5:30pm AEST.
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