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World Cup: Maradona demands an apology from his critics

Payback is a .... well, you know. Rhymes with rich.

And with Argentina unbeaten in the World Cup heading into Sunday's second-round match with Mexico, Coach Diego Maradona is demanding that his critics say they're sorry. At the very least.

"Many journalists should apologize to the players," Maradona said at a news conference. "I'm not suggesting you drop your trousers, but it would be honest and great so we all get along better."

With Lionel Messi flanked by Carlos Tevez and Gonzalo Higuain, the Argentines are one of the favorites to win the competition. It's quite a turnaround for a squad that only just squeezed through qualifying, when Maradona used more than 100 players.

"I am turning 50 and I am not bitter," Maradona said. "But I get annoyed when people don't respect my players.

"It isn't easy going from being nobodies back home to winning three matches at a World Cup. At the training camp, we had to swallow what you all said about us being a disaster — the worst Argentine team you'd ever seen. All of a sudden we're an excellent team ... the most handsome people in the barrio."

The winner of Sunday's match will play either England or Germany, and Maradona, at least publicly, isn't buying into the sudden status of Argentina being potential champions.

"I still think the other teams are the favorites, but we're fighting for it," he said. "My players have understood the message and know perfectly what's needed.

"When you win, you don't get carried away. But if you go step by step, with confidence, you can go far."

-- Kevin Baxter reporting from Rustenburg, South Africa
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