FIFA has strongly rebuked the self-styled “captain of legends” Diego Maradona for his criticism of the referee in England’s shoot-out win over Colombia on Tuesday.
In an interview with Venezuelan television channel Telesur, the 57-year-old Argentine described the result as a “monumental robbery” and blamed the chairman of FIFA’s referees committee, Pierluigi Collina, for giving the game to American referee Mark Geiger.
Maradona, who is understood to receive 10,000 US dollars a game from FIFA as part of its ‘Legends’ ambassador programme, said Collina should “apologise to the Colombian people” because Geiger “knows a lot about baseball but has no idea about football”.
The 1986 World Cup-winning captain accused England’s players of conning Geiger and said the referee should have reviewed, and then overturned, his decision to award Harry Kane a second-half penalty.
Maradona, who was photographed in a Colombia shirt before the game, added: “I screamed at Colombia’s equaliser as though I had been the one to head that ball because it’s not possible – you have to denounce this.
“As the captain of legends, I have to tell (FIFA president Gianni) Infantino this cannot be left like this. This is a fatal mistake for a whole country.”
That conversation with Infantino, however, might not be needed, as FIFA has responded to his rant.
In a statement, it said: “Following comments made by Diego Armando Maradona in relation to Tuesday’s round of 16 game, Colombia v England, FIFA strongly rebukes the criticism of the performance of the match officials which it considers to have been positive in a tough and highly emotional match.
“Furthermore, it also considers the additional comments and insinuations made as being entirely inappropriate and completely unfounded.
“At a time when FIFA is doing everything within its power to ensure principles of fair play, integrity and respect are at the forefront of this World Cup and how the organisation is now run, FIFA is extremely sorry to read such declarations from a player who has written the history of our game.”
Maradona has been by far the most high-profile and contentious of the numerous FIFA Legends at Russia 2018.
At one game he was spotted breaking stadium no-smoking laws with a lit cigar and making slant-eyed gestures towards some South Korean fans. At another he made offensive gestures to Nigerian fans after an Argentina goal and later had to be given treatment after an apparent collapse. There have also been several pictures and videos of him very clearly enjoying a drink or two.
It should also be noted that Maradona does not speak for all FIFA’s legends.
Former German captain Lothar Matthaus and Brazilian great Ronaldo were at the launch of FIFA’s annual player awards in Moscow on Wednesday and Matthaus said he thought the referee should have been much stricter with Colombia’s arguing and diving. He also thought England were worthy winners.
While Ronaldo, when asked by a reporter what he thought of Colombia’s complaints, said: “How long have you been reporting on football?”
To which the response was “17 years”.
“Well, you will know then that the loser always moans,” replied Ronaldo.