Fri Oct 21 16:54:19 SAST 2016

Maradona flies in for week-long visit

By Ramatsiyi Moholoa | Jan 19, 2010 | COMMENTS [ 0 ]

"GRACIAS, gracias South Africa."

"GRACIAS, gracias South Africa."

This means "thank you, thank you South Africa".

These were the words of Argentina coach Diego Maradona after arriving in the country for a 2010 Fifa World Cup inspection visit.

A strong local and foreign media contingent was at the OR Tambo International Airport to see the legendary Maradona making his first public appearance after a two-month ban by Fifa.

The ban also made it impossible for the controversial icon to attend the 2010 World Cup final draw in Cape Town on December 4.

After hearing that he was planning to attend the event regardless of the ban, the world soccer governing body made it clear he wouldn't be allowed inside the hall.

Maradona was banned by Fifa and fined R180000 for his foul-mouthed outbursts on television after Argentina's decisive 2010 World Cup playoff win against Uruguay. They won the match 1-0.

Sporting dark sunglasses on his arrival yesterday, Maradona waved at the crowd, who included airport staff and security personnel.

The popular 49-year-old coach, remembered for his "Hand of God" goal during the 1986 World Cup, has since apologised for his behaviour.

Maradona, who was whisked away to his hotel in Pretoria, escorted by police, will not hold interviews during his week-long visit to South Africa.

Late yesterday, Maradona was set to inspect the facilities at the High Performance Centre in Pretoria where his team will set up base during the World Cup.

Maradona will also visit schools in Pretoria and Soweto. On Thursday, he will go to Soccer City Stadium, which will host the opening match and the final of the World Cup. Argentina will play against South Africa at this world-class venue on June 17.

Tshwane 2010 World Cup chief executive Godfrey Nkwane said it was a great honour for them to host a star-studded team that includes the reigning Fifa player of the year, Lionel Messi. Argentina will also play at Polokwane.


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