22 January 2010
Argentinean national coach and former football star Diego Maradona has expressed his satisfaction with South Africa’s preparations for the 2010 Fifa World Cup, while dismissing security concerns and encouraging fans to come to the tournament.
He was in the country to mainly to inspect the University of Pretoria’s High Performance Centre, where the Argentinean football team will be based.
“They can say what they want, but we know we are coming to play the World Cup in a safe country,” said Maradona, speaking at Safa House in Johannesburg on Thursday. “I have seen that with my own eyes. Anything can happen in the world, but I have spent a week in South Africa and everything is very good and the people very friendly.
“This will be a great World Cup with no doubts of security,” Maradona said. “I will tell my players that they only have to think of playing football when they come here and worry about nothing else.
“I think that it is only fair for South Africa to host the World Cup because they have deserved it for a very long time,” the former Footballer of the Year and World Cup winner said.
Special players, beautiful stadiums
On Thursday, Maradona met 2010 Local Organising Committee (LOC) chief executive Danny Jordaan, SA Football Association president Kirsten Nematandani and CEO Leslie Sedibe, as well as senior LOC management.
Jordaan said he felt there were many similarities between the 1986 Fifa World Cup winning team in which Maradona played and the one he is currently coaching.
“I told the coach that in 1986 when Argentina left for the World Cup the people of Argentina did not think that team would bring back the cup. But that team had a special player and in the end they won the World Cup.
“This year your team also has a very special player. They may not be among the favourites to win the World Cup this year but I think your team is going to surprise many people,” Jordaan said.
Maradona and Jordaan exchanged signed national jerseys on the pitch at Soccer City.
“They really did a great job on this stadium,” said Maradona of Soccer City which will host both the opening and closing games of the World Cup. “I have been to many stadiums before, but this is very big and so great. To be able to enter this stadium is so beautiful.
“I feel inspired to play here but unfortunately my time has passed.”