Diego Maradona has apologised to FIFA after an outspoken attack on the referee for Colombia’s defeat to England at the World Cup.
Argentina’s 1986 World Cup-winning captain claimed Colombia suffered a “monumental robbery” in the last-16 tie on Tuesday after England were awarded a penalty for a foul on Harry Kane.
Maradona said American referee Mark Geiger “knows a lot about baseball but has no idea about football” and also criticised FIFA for appointing the official to the match.
His remarks earned him a rebuke from tournament organisers FIFA, whom it is understood pay Maradona around 10,000 US dollars a game as part of its ‘Legends’ ambassador programme.
Maradona, 57, has now has now expressed regret for his comments in a post on Instagram.
He wrote: “Taken by the excitement of supporting Colombia the other day, I said a couple of things and, I admit, some of them are unacceptable. My apologies to FIFA and its president.
“As much as I may sometimes have opinions contrary to some refereeing decisions, I have absolute respect for the work – not easy – that the institution and the referees do.”
Maradona, who was photographed in a Colombia shirt before the match, had accused England players of conning Geiger and said the referee should have reviewed, and then overturned, the penalty decision.
He told Venezuelan television channel Telesur: “The penalty was not a penalty; it was a foul by Kane… Why didn’t he use VAR?
“Today I saw a monumental robbery on the pitch.
“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.”
FIFA, the world governing body, responded to those remarks with a strong statement.
It read: “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.