Six minutes into the second half, the score was 0–0. Maradona cut inside from the right flank and played a diagonal low pass to the edge of the area to teammate Jorge Valdano and continued his run in the hope of a one-two movement. Maradona's pass, however, was played slightly behind Valdano and reached England's Steve Hodge, the left-midfielder who had dropped back to defend.
Hodge (who swapped shirts with Maradona after the game) tried to hook the ball clear but miscued it. The ball screwed off his foot and into the penalty area, toward Maradona, who had continued his run. England goalkeeper Peter Shilton duly came out of his goal to punch the ball clear, with his considerable height (6'1" or 185cm) making him clear favourite to beat Maradona (5'5" or 165cm) to it. However, Maradona reached it first—with the outside of his left fist. The ball went into the goal, and the referee (Tunisian Ali Bin Nasser), not having seen the infringement, allowed the goal.
Many people did not initially realize it was a handball. Some television commentators thought the objections of the English defenders were claims for offside (Maradona could not have been offside because the previous person from Argentina to have touched the ball was himself), and it was only clear from other camera angles—not the original one—that there had been an offence.
The Argentine players and fans celebrated (video shows Maradona looking toward the referee; he later said "I was waiting for my teammates to embrace me, and no one came . . . I told them, 'Come hug me, or the referee isn't going to allow it.'" ) while the English players protested to no avail.
Incidents of players seeking to gain an advantage by skirting the laws of the game, in the hope that the referee does not see, are common. This incident has derived its notoriety largely from the importance and closeness of the match, the animosity between the nations, and the responses of Maradona and the English media.
Five minutes later, Maradona scored another goal, voted in 2002 as the Goal of the Century, in which he eluded five English outfield players (Hoddle, Reid, Sansom, Butcher (twice) and Fenwick), as well as Shilton. England scored through Gary Lineker in the 81st minute, but Argentina won the match 2–1.
At the post-game press conference, Maradona exacerbated the controversy further by claiming the goal was scored "un poco con la cabeza de Maradona y otro poco con la mano de Dios" (a little with the head of Maradona and a little with the hand of God), coining one of the most famous quotes in sport. Video and photographic evidence demonstrated that he had struck the ball with his hand, which was shown on television networks and in newspapers all over the world.
Very little criticism or complaint was made against referee Ali Bin Nasser or the Bulgarian linesman, Bogdan Dochev.
For the next few days, the English press referred to the incident as "The Hand of the Devil." Maradona remained unpopular with the English press for many years. When he was later banned from football for cocaine use, the tabloid newspaper The Sun stated in a headline "Dirty Diego Gone For Good!"
In 2005, on his television talk show, Maradona attempted to justify the goal as a response to the UK's victory in the Falklands War, quoting the popular Spanish saying: "Whoever robs a thief gets a 100-year pardon." During a televised interview with Maradona in 2006, Lineker said, in reference to the goal, "Personally, I blame the referee and the linesman, not you."
In a January 2008 interview for The Sun, Maradona spoke of the politeness of the English, saying "If I could apologise and go back and change history I would," but a few days later, in Argentina, he denied that this amounted to an apology for the goal.