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Monday, June 21, 2010
Maradona still fighting for fair play

Argentina coach Diego Maradona believes greater emphasis should be placed on fair play at this summer's World Cup.

• Blog: Messi is Argentina's El Cid

Maradona appealed to FIFA prior to the start of the tournament to extol the virtues of their Fair Play campaign during the competition and then repeated the call for referees to protect flair players ahead of Argentina's second group match against South Korea.

The 49-year-old's side won both their opening two matches, beating Nigeria 1-0 and South Korea 4-1, but he still feels the officials need to be doing more.

"We all want fair play," he said. "I understand that the referee may make a mistake but when (Argentina captain Javier) Mascherano, for instance, gets a card and the Korean player kicks out and gets nothing, no card, then sometimes as a coach you have doubts.

"This is football and not kung fu fighting, so I don't think yet we've seen the fair play we want to see."

Maradona was also asked his opinion on Luis Fabiano's controversial second goal for Brazil in Sunday night's 3-1 win over Ivory Coast.

Luis Fabiano appeared to use his arm twice to control the ball in the build-up to his goal, which put Brazil 2-0 up five minutes after half-time, and said after the match it was a goal scored by the 'Hand of God'.

Asked to comment, Maradona said, laughing; "No, this one hit his arm. It's pretty obvious - the ball even hit his arm twice."

The Argentina coach, who would go on to lift the World Cup in 1986 following his own 'Hand of God' incident against England, also highlighted the reaction of French referee Stephane Lannoy after allowing Luis Fabiano's goal to stand.

"The tragicomic thing is the smile of the referee afterwards," he said. "I didn't see the referee laugh after I scored the goal against England.

"The referee (in 1986) didn't smile - he had more doubts than anybody. He looked at the linesman, because at that time there was no fourth official; he looked at the crowd to see if they gave could give him a hand...

"Yesterday the referee was laughing. If you saw the handball, why didn't you penalise it? And it was in a very crucial point of the match, with Brazil taking a 2-0 lead."

Meanwhile, Maradona dismissed suggestions he might rest Lionel Messi for Tuesday's final Group B clash against Greece, insisting it would be a "sin" to deprive the public of seeing the best player on the planet.

Prior to the start of the World Cup there had been concerns about Messi's state of health following a gruelling season with Barcelona, and the 22-year-old then played the full 90 minutes against Nigeria and South Korea.

With Argentina having won both those games to establish a three-point lead at the top of Group B heading into the final round of fixtures, it might have crossed Maradona's mind to give Messi a break for the clash with Greece.

That prospect seemed even more likely as Maradona tested a radically different team in training to the one that beat South Korea 4-1, with Messi one of those not involved, but it appears the FIFA World Player of the Year will start in Polokwane.

"Lionel Messi always wants to play and I thought I should give him a break (in training), but if you have a player as good as Leo, who is the best player in the world, I think it would be a sin not to give Messi to the people, to the team, and leave out the player who can certainly make the difference in a match," Maradona said.

"We of course wanted to give Lionel Messi a break (in training). He will play."

Maradona also played down Messi's lack of success in front of goal.

"If Messi is having a bad run then let him continue with that bad run, because I'm extremely pleased with Messi's performances," he said. "He goes out to play and help his team-mates. Leo helps define the match and creates things for the other players."

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