In Brief

Diego Maradona slams England for World Cup ‘theft’ against Colombia

Argentine legend also calls on Fifa’s head of referees Pierluigi Collina to ‘apologise to the Colombian people’

Argentine motormouth Diego Maradona has likened England’s penalty shoot-out victory over Colombia to grand larceny.

In an interview with broadcaster TeleSUR, the former World Cup winner said: “I saw a monumental theft. I apologise to all the Colombian people, but they must know the players are not to blame.”

Maradona knows all about light fingers, having used them to knock England out of the 1986 World Cup with his “Hand of God” goal, but the pint-sized former football genius turned professional polemicist believes Fifa should be in the dock for conspiring to send Colombia home.

“With all due respect, Pierluigi Collina, as the man who designates the referees, he is very bad,” said Maradona. “He must apologise to the Colombian people. It is the man who decides who the referee is who is to blame. A man like that [Mark Geiger, the American referee] should not be put in charge of a game of that magnitude.”

Asked what he thought of Geiger, who dished out yellow cards to six Colombian players, Maradona sneered: “The referee will know a lot about baseball, but he has no idea about football.

“The Colombian players asked for VAR [video assistant referee intervention] and he did not give it to them. Twice, the English threw themselves to the ground and he did not admonish them. This was theft.”

Fifa: Maradona comments ‘completely unfounded’

Maradona watched the match at the Spartak Stadium in Moscow as a “Fifa legend”, presumably for what he achieved as a player with his feet and not his hands. But the fact he turned up in a Colombia shirt somewhat undermined his status as one of the Fifa “ambassadors”.

On the plus side, he managed to go through 90 minutes, extra-time and the penalties without giving anyone the finger this time.

Fifa, who must by now be regretting appointing Maradona as one of their ambassadors, have called his comments “entirely inappropriate” and “completely unfounded”.

The governing body said in a statement: “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.”

But Maradona’s comments were echoed by Colombia captain Radamel Falcao, who described Geiger’s performance as “shameful”.

The former Manchester United and Chelsea striker was one of the six Colombians booked and he told reporters: “The referee disturbed us a lot. In the 50-50 plays, he always made the calls in favour of England. He didn’t act with the same criteria for both teams. I found it peculiar that they put an American referee in this instance. To tell you the truth, the process leaves a lot of doubts.”

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