Richard Buxton: In the presence of Diego Maradona's greatness
Our columnist recounts witnessing Maradona-mania at the 2018 World Cup
Gazing upon the face of "God" for the first time is often a surreal experience.
Some people see it when enjoying exhilarating highs while others do so from the depths of despair. My encounter at the 2018 World Cup lies somewhere in between the two.
I had just witnessed Cristiano Ronaldo's hat-trick for Portugal in a 3-3 draw with Spain.
Rolling in from Sochi at 6am the following morning, Argentina and Iceland's early afternoon showdown in Moscow should really have been further down on the list of priorities.
But the prospect of watching Lionel Messi go toe-to-toe with the might of the Thunder Clap helped stave off sleep deprivation for long enough at the Spartak Stadium.
Eclipsing Ronaldo's treble feat the night before would already be difficult enough for Barcelona's talisman, even before someone more ethereal than himself entered the fray.
Then it happened; moments before kick-off in the Russian capital, Diego Maradona emerged.
His shuffled arrival into the VIP section prompted the entire stadium to explode into rapture.
Everyone in attendance wanted to catch a glimpse of greatness, including the Iceland supporters that formed part of international football's ultimate underdog tale.
This was more than communion.
It was a phenomenon which surpassed any other form of evangelism, with chants of "Diego!" echoing from all sides in the sun-drenched arena.
Over three decades since leading his country to glory in Mexico '86, "El Pibe de Oro" continued to intrigue and enthral the footballing world by simply watching a game.
His presence off the pitch proved more illuminating than the action on it, with Messi missing a penalty as La Albiceleste were held to a 1-1 draw.
Maradona's majesty survived the controversy which arose from the stalemate, too, amid accusations he had made a racially offensive gesture to a South Korean fan during his grand entrance.
Upstaging the main event became a recurring theme of his life and manifested again during Argentina's run at the Finals. The former playmaker's wide-eyed antics which greeted a late, crucial 2-1 victory over Nigeria left him requiring paramedic treatment.
Being English by birth but not definition means the hatred of Maradona never resonated, especially as Liverpool, my birthplace and place of residence, already has a complex relationship with its national team.
Many directly on the receiving end of the "Hand of God" clearly feel the same way.
Affection, however, runs far deeper than purely for his status as the homegrown game's mortal enemy. The trajectory of his playing career, moving successively to clubs based in perennially downtrodden cities like Naples and Barcelona, merely added to his appeal.
Maradona's talent elevated him to another level throughout the 1980s and early 1990s, despite defenders and personal demons doing their utmost to try and drag him down.
Watching YouTube footage of him warming up in Munich's Olympiastadion with Napoli before their 1989 Uefa Cup semi-final against Bayern Munich underlines his effortless brilliance.
His laces are undone, cheesy Austrian pop-rock is playing in the background and, yet, he ably performs an array of ball tricks most elite-level players would struggle to emulate.
Cristiano Ronaldo said it best - his legacy is unmatched and leaves a void which cannot be filled.
Dying on the same date that his idol George Best departed feels almost pre-ordained.
A banner hung at Spartak Stadium throughout the group stages provided Maradona's most fitting epitaph.
Alongside an image of his finest hour, hoisting aloft the World Cup in 1986, were the words: "The ball is always clean, but it cries because it misses you."
It weeps even more now.