Thursday, 10 June 2010

Diego Maradona: bottoms, bidets and bonkers as Nigeria game looms at Ellis Park on Saturday

DIEGO MARADONA, we have been assured, has learned to be calmer, more careful, as he prepares for Saturday’s opening World Cup clash against Nigeria and their migrant population at Ellis Park on Saturday.

So best we just forget the training pitch antics this week, when the man who won the 1986 World Cup on his own had his winning five-a-side team blast the balls at the buttocks of the losers at Pretoria’s High Performance Centre. Oh, and forget the days when he threatened to do something extremely nasty to disrespectful journalists. And the demands for expensive “bidet-toilets” in his room at one of South Africa’s top sports bases. Perhaps he just has a thing about bottoms.

The bottom line for Saturday’s opening Group C clash is that he’s planning to use all three strikers – Manchester City’s Carlos Tévez, Atletico Madrid’s Sergio Aguero and Inter Milan’s Champions League winner Diego Milito – up front against the Super Eagles. That’s some take. Winner-take-all, caution-to-the-winds, 3-4-3.

His take on arriving here this week? “You have to put all your heart into winning the World Cup. You've got to give your life."

Given the scenes at Tembisa on Sunday, when thousands of local Nigerians attempted to gain access to their friendly 3-0 win over North Korea – leaving 15 in hospital – he may be about to do just that. Ellis Park saw 43 die in a similar crush in April, 2001. Lightning won’t strike twice. But it was a sign of just how well supported the Nigerians will be at this tournament.

This morning in Brooklyn, near the Argentine camp at Pretoria University, I spent my time helping their Spanish-speaking fans book tickets for the latter stages. They are still available. I spent some time explaining to the charming South African ticket sellers that one of the moustachioed Argies had accidentally booked the last 16 clash in Port Elizabeth on June 26 instead of the one at Loftus Versfeld on the 29th.

I attempted to explain in Spanglish: “But if you finish second in the group, you may have the right ticket!” Mr Moustache and the Argentine fans, here in surprising numbers, were having none of it. Argentina are going to win Group C, Nigeria, Greece or South Korea (who play each other earlier on Saturday at the Nelson Mandela Stadium) will have to battle it out for that second spot.

They are prepared to forget – rather quickly – the struggle Diego’s Argentina had to qualify for this World Cup. He used 107 players, failed to get the best out of the magical Lionel Messi, and they just sneaked in ahead of play-off bound Uruguay.

Maradona was accused of being muddle-minded, having no idea what system to play, of favouring his old pals in the squad. No longer. This is World Cup time. Maradona left Inter Milan’s Champions League winning defenders Javier Zanetti and Esteban Cambiasso at home and is promising to go for that revolutionary 3-4-3 formation.

Unfazed, Nigeria’s former Newcastle striker Obafemi Martins says: “There will be 150 million people at home watching the game. Messi is a good player, they’ve got Tevez too, but this is the World Cup we know it's important for all of us. That's why we're here, we've got to give our best."See Maradona's crazy training session:


  1. Finger trouble there Neal. The Ellis Park tragedy was 2001 not 2010.
    Friends at the match said security guards were accepting cash at the gate and let in far too many people.

  2. Thanks... have corrected. Need a sub-editor! Bad news about Nelson Mandela this morning. His grand-daughter was killed in road crash after concert last night. Probably won't be at opening ceremony. Gutted.