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Maradona: Protect Messi

2010-06-28 08:49

Johannesburg - Diego Maradona shrugged off the latest Soccer World Cup referee blunder on Sunday to demand more protection for Lionel Messi, Argentina's prize asset and key to the country's title hopes.

VIDEO: Frank Lampard's disallowed goal

Argentina saw off Mexico 3-1 to book a quarter-final clash against Germany but the Mexicans were angry that Carlos Tevez's opening goal was allowed to stand despite the Manchester City striker being offside.

When quizzed about the goal, Maradona instead took the opportunity to defend Messi, who was fouled five times while Rafael Marquez was yellow carded for a bruising challenge on the star after 28 minutes.

When asked to appreciate Mexico coach Javier Aguirre's fury over Tevez's goal, Maradona went on the attack.

"He would have felt the same way I do when Messi is playing and he gets kicked around, but the referee doesn't act," fumed Maradona.

"(The goal) looks like it was absolutely normal. Listen, today we just had (Mexico players receiving) cautions, but I know what it is like to be a good player like Messi and when you try to get the ball, you get kicked.

"As soon as Messi gets the ball, they want to kick him, it is a scandal.

"Against England, Germany played well, because nobody was trying to kick them.

"I just want Messi to be respected, there is a limit to everything."

A double from Tevez, plus Gonzalo Higuain's fourth of the tournament, sealed Sunday's win for the two-time champions while Mexico scored a consolation goal through Javier Hernandez.

Maradona is confident his side will now beat Germany, who crushed England 4-1, at Cape Town on Saturday in their quarter-final showdown.

"We will take stock of our situation, then we will try and put together the best team to showcase our talents against Germany," said Maradona.

"It will be the team to give us the guarantee to overcome Germany. We know Germany are a different team to the side we faced in Mexico.

"They are stronger, but we will field the right players to beat them."

Despite struggling to qualify for South Africa, Maradona's side have now picked up their fourth straight World Cup win and the former midfield maestro said he would dearly love to face the Germans himself.

"I feel like pulling on the jersey and playing myself, it is beautiful to be involved with this group of players, I feel proud to share these moments with them," he said.

"They said I had no idea about how to coach, but suddenly I am winning matches and I am still the same guy."

On Sunday, and with his side leading 2-0 at the break, Maradona had to turn peacemaker on the sidelines at Soccer City as the Mexican players reacted angrily to Tevez's opening goal and referee Roberto Rosetti.

"Midfielder (Mario) Bolatti said someone grabbed him by the hair from behind, (Gabriel) Heinze said every time he got near the touchline, he was insulted by the Mexican bench," said Maradona.

"When the players went down to the dressing room, it looked like a Mexican player was angry and he was ready to attack Bolatti.

"We separated them before anything else could happen, because we would have had trouble for sure."

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An emotional Diego Maradona says he was betrayed as Argentina coach by national team director Carlos Bilardo.
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