FIFA rebukes Maradona - for criticising the referee after England-Colombia match

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Maradona gets up-close and personal with FIFA President Gianni Infantino during the France and Argentina match.

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.

Maradona before the Argentina v Nigeria match

Maradona before the Argentina v Nigeria match

“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.

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Gareth Southgate wants England players to live out their World Cup dreams against Sweden

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Gareth Southgate was back at training on Wednesday morning

Gareth Southgate told England’s players to capitalise on this chance to live out their World Cup dreams, although the manager is under no illusions about what a “hugely difficult” quarter-final awaits against Sweden.

Tuesday’s last-16 clash against Colombia was dogged by adversity and controversy, but the Three Lions emerged victorious in a penalty shootout for just the second time after drawing 1-1 after extra-time.

Jordan Henderson failed from the spot but Jordan Pickford denied Carlos Bacca after Mateus Uribe hit the bar, allowing Eric Dier to seal a 4-3 shootout win and mouth-watering quarter-final against Sweden in Samara this Saturday.

“We’ve talked a lot to this team about making their own history, and I feel they’ve really bought into everything we’ve tried to do with them,” Southgate said, having seen Harry Kane’s second-half penalty cancelled out by Yerry Mina in stoppage time.

“The composure they showed in their play for the first 85 to 88 minutes in a big match, under pressure, I thought was really impressive.

“I think for them, definitely a big moment. We want to capitalise on it now.

“I’m already thinking about the next game.

“I’d have liked a week to enjoy this one but haven’t got that because Sweden are a team I respect hugely.

“We’ve not got a good record against them, I think we’ve always underestimated them.

“They have good plans, they have a clear way of playing – and it’s bloody difficult to play against.

“They are greater than the sum of their parts more often than not, so that is a hugely difficult game for us.

“Because at the moment we’re high as a kite and hoping to recover and we’ve got to get back to Repino at six in the morning, but what a great game for us to be in.”

Recovery could be interesting given Southgate said England’s dressing room looked “like a scene from M*A*S*H*” after the 120 minutes in Moscow.

Issues other than cramp need to be assessed and it will take 36 hours after the game to get a fuller picture about the problems sustained on a night when the Three Lions showed their mettle.

Colombia fans made it feel “like an away fixture” but their players’ roughhousing was met by a more streetwise response than generations gone by, even after seeing Wilmar Barrios avoid a red card for headbutting Henderson.

“Maybe we’re getting a bit smarter,” Southgate said.

“Maybe we’re now playing some of our game by the rules the rest of the world are playing.

“But I think we also kept our dignity, kept our sportsmanship, and if we were down it was because we were fouled.”

Southgate felt like there was one England fan to every five Colombia supporters at the Spartak Stadium, but the feel-good factor coupled with lessening concerns about Russia could now see fans head east.

“We have fantastic supporters who’ve had to stand with us for decades of disappointment,” the England boss said.

“I’m extremely proud that our team have made everybody in England very happy tonight and for the next few days, so that’s a really special moment for our country.

“I think we’ll get quite a few looking to travel for the quarter-final, although that’s difficult to get to logistically.”

Samara could be worth the journey, though, given the way England’s players have reacted to pressure so far.

Everton goalkeeper Pickford came under scrutiny following the loss to Belgium, but saved a key penalty having produced a world-class one-handed stop late in the game.

“It was a top-class save – surprised he could reach it given his height,” Southgate said with a laugh, referring to Belgium shot-stopper Thibaut Courtois’ comments about his height.

“His athleticism around the goal is excellent and, again, he executed the plan in the penalty shootout.

“We’d studied all of their penalty takers – and great credit to the collective of staff and to him for taking on board that information and really preparing in the right way.

“You don’t always get what you deserve in life, but I think tonight we did.”

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Nigeria captain John Obi Mikel reveals his father was kidnapped during the World Cup

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John Obi Mikel played against Argentina after he found out his father was kidnapped just hours before

In a stunning development to Nigeria’s World Cup campaign it has been revealed that the Super Eagles captain John Obi Mikel’s father Michael was kidnapped shortly before their final game against Argentina.

Mikel has admitted he was aware of his father being kidnapped before the match but insisted on leading his country in the crucial group decider where a win for Nigeria would have seen them reach the knockout stages. In the end they were beaten 2-1 by La Albiceleste.

“I was confused. I did not know what to do, but in the end I knew that I could not let 180 million Nigerians down,” Mikel told ESPN.

“I had to shut it out of my head and go and represent my country first. I was told that they would shoot my dad instantly if I reported to the authorities or told anybody.

“And I did not want to discuss it with the coach because I did not want my issue to become a distraction to the coach or the rest of the team on the day of such an important game. So as much as I wanted to discuss it with the coach, I could not do it.”

The good news is Mikel Snr has now been freed.

“Michael Obi, the father of the (Super) Eagles captain, has regained his freedom,” a spokesman for Enugu state police in southeast Nigeria, Ebere Amaraizu, said late Monday.

Amaraizu said the senior Obi’s captors did not hurt him after seizing him at gunpoint last Thursday evening in Enugu, but they forced him to walk for about five kilometres (three miles) barefoot in heavy rain.

He said the Eagles skipper paid a ransom of 10 million naira (about US$28,000) to obtain the release of his father, who is in his sixties. No arrest has been made but police are on the trail of the abductors, he said.

Michael Obi has been kidnapped once before, in the central city of Jos in 2011.

Kidnapping of prominent and rich people and their families is common in southern Nigeria. The victims are usually released unhurt after a ransom is paid.

The former Chelsea star has represented his country at the last two World Cups and has won 85 caps in total, scoring six goals.

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