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Page last updated at 12:57 GMT, Saturday, 12 June 2010 13:57 UK

World Cup 2010: Maradona calls for fair play

Diego Maradona
Maradona played in two World Cup finals

Diego Maradona, scorer of the infamous 'Hand of God' goal against England in 1986, has made a plea for fair play at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.

"Let there really be fair play, let the referees understand what the words fair play mean," said the Argentina coach.

The Fifa fair play banner will be carried on to the pitch before every match by a quartet of boys.

"Let's not abandon the little boys," said Maradona, whose side open their campaign against Nigeria on Saturday.

Maradona described the Super Eagles as "rough and hard", adding that his players were "prepared for that".

Diego Maradona's infamous 'hand of God' goal

World Cup 1986 - 'Hand of God' beats England

Maradona, who led Argentina to World Cup glory 24 years ago and to the final four years later, claimed to have experienced the unsporting side of the tournament in the opening game of the 1990 event.

"When the fair play [slogan] was introduced in 1990 I was kicked so hard they almost knocked my head off against Cameroon," Maradona said.

Cameroon beat Argentina 1-0 but had two players sent off in a bruising encounter.

"And we had to swallow the yellow card of [Claudio] Caniggia's hand ball and compared with the kick I got from Cameroon, he was Heidi," said Maradona, alluding to the young girl protagonist of Swiss children's books.


Striker Caniggia was suspended for that second yellow in the tournament and missed the Rome final in which Argentina were defeated 1-0 by West Germany.

Maradona went on to predict that his star performer Lionel Messi could come to be regarded as the greatest player in football history.

"I wish with all my heart for Lio to have a superb tournament and be the best of all time definitively," he said.

"I'd love Lio to have the same impact (in this World Cup) that I had in '86.

"But behind Lio there's a team that supports him. He should be the cherry on the cake."

If they come with a very offensive team, that means they want to attack a lot, and maybe that can give us some good chances to attack

Nigeria coach Lars Lagerback

Argentina have faced Nigeria twice before in the group stage at the World Cup, beating them 2-1 in the United States in 1994 and 1-0 in Japan in 2002.

South Korea and Greece are the other teams in Group B.

"Tomorrow we start to build the dream that we've had in us for a long time," Maradona said.

Nigeria coach Lars Lagerback, meanwhile, has said Argentina's tendency to play high up the pitch may present his team with an opportunity to hit them on the counter-attack.

"What I've seen from Argentina - not only during Maradona's [time] as a coach - is they always try to play a very offensive game," Lagerback said.

"If they come with a very offensive team, that means they want to attack a lot, and maybe that can give us some good chances to find useable space for us to attack."

Super Eagles striker Victor Obinna Nsofor says the team are more focused under Swede Lagerback, who took over from Shaibu Amodu in February.

"There's been an improvement," he told the BBC's African Sports programme Fast Track.

"We have been working hard, and we have been making sure to coordinate well and [play] just as the coach wants us to," he said.

"So we're going to take all the things we've learned, all the things we've practised and put it on the pitch properly."

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see also
Team guide: Argentina
31 May 10 |  World Cup 2010
England are a real threat - Messi
28 May 10 |  World Cup 2010
Coloccini out of Argentina squad
19 May 10 |  World Cup 2010
Maradona banned for lewd outburst
15 Nov 09 |  Internationals
Win seals Argentina qualification
15 Oct 09 |  World Cup 2010
World Cup venues
05 Dec 09 |  World Cup 2010

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