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Maradona Losing More Than Games

No matter how hard he tries, Diego Maradona can't stay out of the spotlight. After Argentina's 1-0 loss to Paraguay, which put Argentina close to missing next year's World Cup, Maradona flew to Italy to check into a weight loss clinic and avoid a showdown with Julio Grondona, president of the Argentine soccer federation and the vice president of FIFA. But Maradona didn't get much solitude. The Italian tax authorities have wanted Maradona since he stopped playing for Napoli 18 years ago. He owes the government a reported $54 million, which the police have been collecting in small installments from Maradona. Last week, Italian police seized Maradona's $5,900 earrings at the Grand Hotel Palace in Merano. A few years ago in Naples, the tax police took a couple of Maradona's fancy wristwatches.

Despite all the criticism aimed his way, Maradona still has the backing of one of his main advisers, Carlos Bilardo, who coached Argentina to its 1986 World Cup victory. Bilardo, who goes by the name "Big Nose", said that Maradona should not be replaced, no matter who the replacement may be. "If Jesus Christ or the Virgin Mary come, then it is acceptable, otherwise it isn't," Bilardo said.

Many cannot conceive of a World Cup without Argentina. Superstars Fernando Torres and Kaka, for example, have both said that it would be unthinkable to have a tournament without the likes of star players Lionel Messi, Sergio Aguero, Javier Mascherano, Diego Milito, Carlos Tevez and Javier Zanetti. Maradona's Argentina has two vital qualifying games left, at home against Peru on Oct. 10 and away to Uruguay three days later. It plays a friendly against Ghana, which already qualified for the World Cup, on Sept. 30 in Cordoba.

 

Read the whole story at Los Angeles Times »

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