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World Cup: Diego Maradona, likeable chap or devious and manipulative coach of Argentina?

July 2, 2010 | 12:19 pm

Maradona_300 I have just returned from a few moments with Diego Armando Maradona, who ended his 20-minute news conference at Cape Town's Green Point Stadium by informing the media that he was "going to dinner."

Presumably it will be a sumptuous meal, Maradona's appetite for many things being a well known fact.

He hung just long enough at the packed gathering to undermine possible future opponent Spain, to ridicule England, to cast doubt into German minds, to deliver a wrist slap to Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo, and to castigate the refereeing at World Cup 2010.

Portugal was unable to defeat Spain, Maradona said, because every call by the referee went in Spain's favor. Not only that, but David Villa's game-winning goal was scored from an offside position. In addition, Ronaldo should not have come off the pitch complaining about Coach Carlos Queiroz's tactics, but "should have resolved the situation" on the field himself.

Germany's 4-1 victory over England should be taken with a large grain of salt, Maradona said, and was "a bit of a lie" because England offered no real resistance. Germany, which plays Argentina in one of Saturday's two quarterfinals, should not be seen as all that good, in other words.

Even though it is against FIFA rules, he said, replays are being shown on the stadium scoreboards that ultimately end up influencing match officials. He pointed out Zinedine Zidane's head-butt in the 2006 final between France and Italy in Berlin as an example, and also to the offside call that was not made  against Argentina's Carlos Tevez when he scored against Mexico in this tournament.

He said his players would have to "leave their skins on the pitch" on Saturday if they are to defeat the Germans and move on to the semifinals. He said star Lionel Messi has a "slight fever" and was given a rest Friday but that he expects him to play Saturday.

"We respect all our opponents but we don't fear anyone," Maradona said. "These are my players. This is my national team, and I am very, very grateful to all of them."

As far as predicting a result, Maradona declined.

"We are not the smartest people in football," he said. "We do not have a crystal ball. We are not experts at predicting the future."

--Grahame L. Jones, in Cape Town, South Africa

Photo: Diego Maradona attends a press conference in Cape Town, South Africa, on Friday. Credit: Ricardo Mazalan / Associated Press.