Football: Colombia send Asprilla packing

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The Independent Online
FAUSTINO ASPRILLA, a mesmerising footballer but a controversy always waiting to happen, is out of the World Cup after he criticised the Colombian coach and was dismissed from the squad.

The former Newcastle striker made a bitter outburst to a radio reporter after he was substituted five minutes from the end of Colombia's opening- game defeat by Romania. He also accused Hernan Dario Gomez of showing favouritism to other players.

The repercussions could have a positive outcome for England who will feel their chances of defeating Colombia in the final game in Group G will be enhanced without the brilliant yet bafflingly inconsistent Asprilla.

The controversial figure, sold back to Italian club Parma last season by Kenny Dalglish, claimed that other players had become "untouchables" and that they had performed worse against Romania than he had. The attack drew an angry response from Gomez who declared that his star player should go home if he was that unhappy.

When the temperamental 28-year-old failed to turn up for yesterday's training session at La Tour Du Pin in eastern France, Gomez said Asprilla's World Cup was over. "We didn't throw him out, the decision was his," said the coach who was prepared to leave himself a man short in his squad.

"If you don't obey the rules, you're out. We can't have that type of criticism. It's upset me that this has happened."

Gomez has been struggling to inject belief into a party that is still mentally scarred by the execution of the defender Andres Escobar, days after the 1994 team made a surprisingly early return from the World Cup four years ago in the United States.

Their preparations for France were disrupted by internal dispute back home, and with performances en route to the World Cup less than impressive, including a heavy defeat by an uninspiring Belgian side, the omens were not favourable.

They had been banking on Asprilla as one of their best hopes of success in France although St James's Park regulars will confirm his maddeningly inconsistent tendencies. He was a subdued presence against Romania, a fixture that will possibly prove to have been his last ever in the World Cup.

Nevertheless he is a threat that can never be ignored as his record in the qualifying matches underlined - scoring six goals in his first five games - and John Gorman, Glenn Hoddle's assistant did not disagree that it is a boost to England's hopes in the final group game in Lens a week tomorrow.

"I am disappointed for him as some of our lads know him but I am pleased for us," Gorman said. "Asprilla's a very exciting, world-class player, so we are pleased he is not going to be there.

"He gave Germany a lot of problems. You never know what he's going to do. Some of the things he can do are as good as the Brazilians.

"It was a bit of a shock and things like this can't be good for their team spirit. We have a very good atmosphere ourselves, we make an effort to keep the lads who are not in the team very involved."

However, team-mate Carlos Valderrama, apparently the target of Asprilla's criticism of Colombia's tactics, said that they would be strengthened by his departure.

Asked whether Colombia would be weakened Valderrama said: "No, now it gets fortified. When we're all here, we're all necessary. But when we're not here, then we're none of us essential."

Valderrama added that the other players had not got involved in the argument and had not interferred. "We don't butt in. When a player makes a mistake like that, the coach takes a decision," said the 36-year-old veteran of the two previous World Cups.

"Now we're ready and waiting for the match against Tunisia (in Montpellier on Monday) spurred by the vision of qualifying (for the second round).