The greatest and most controversial footballer of his generation, Maradona has already served a 15- month suspension imposed by Fifa, the world football authority, after testing positive for cocaine. He now faces the prospect of a sine die suspension from football.
The sensational news that Maradona, 33, was the the player who had failed a drugs test broke here on Wednesday night and once it was clear that a second sample from the same urine test was also going to be positive the Argentine football federation - fearing Fifa sanctions against the team - moved quickly to distance itself from the team's captain. Argentine officials said that the drugs had been given to Maradona by his personal trainer and dietician without their knowledge.
The second, more detailed, test carried out by the University of California at Los Angeles, revealed traces of five banned substances. All are related to a stimulant called ethedrine, which is fould in cold cures. The Argentine federation convened in emergency session yesterday morning, and, in the words of their chairman, Julio Grondona, 'made the decision to expel Diego Armando Maradona from the team'. Fifa World Cup officials accepted their decision at a hastily arranged meeting here, where Argentina were preparing for last nights' final Group D match against Bulgaria.
Fifa will make a ruling on the case after the finals, being played in the United States, have been completed. Until then, the general secretary, Sepp Blatter, said: 'Maradona will remain suspended from all football activity.'
Despite the evidence, Maradona declared yesterday: 'I didn't take drugs and above all I did not let down those who love me.'
Last night, Fifa officials went out of their way to show he could not have failed the test by taking a cold cure. Fifa's medical expert, Dr Michel d'Hooghe, said five banned drugs were found. 'We did not find one pill containing the five products so we suppose it must be a cocktail,' he said. 'These products have a positive action on the central nervous system, increasing the player's concentration and physical ability.' Dr d'Hooghe said that if Maradona had been taking medicine for a cold, there were better products.
The case is the first violation uncovered by Fifa's random testing since the Scotland winger Willie Johnston was found to have taken a proscribed substance during the 1978 finals in Argentina.
The most sensational scandal in the history of the tournament had its origins three years ago. Maradona, then apparently winding down his career with the Italian club Napoli after helping his country to win the World Cup in 1986, tested positive for cocaine. He was given a 15-month Fifa ban.
On returning to Argentina, he was charged with drug possession and trafficking and given a 12- month suspended prison sentence. It was something of a surprise when, despite being released by his latest club in Argentina following feuds with journalists and team officials, he was named in the squad for the finals. A frankly fat figure earlier this year, he reportedly lost 26 pounds in a matter of months, and was duly named as captain of Argentina for the World Cup.
Maradona's form in the opening two games was good - but then he became one of the two Argentine players selected for the compulsory dope test after the bruising game with Nigeria.
He now faces a lengthy ban from football - possibly for life. Blatter declined to discuss his eventual fate, saying his removal from the team meant there was 'no urgency for Fifa to deal with the matter now'. He added: 'It's a question of personality - a moral, human case that should be dealt with after the competition is over.'
As the decision was being announced to a packed press conference, Maradona was reported to have disappeared, into a hotel or on to a plane to Argentina, his extraordinary career seemingly over.
Maradona habit, page 36
Dear Diego, page 21
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