The irrepressible football legend Diego Maradona said yesterday that the corruption and match-fixing scandals blighting the game will continue for as long as Fifa, the game's international governing body, is run by "dinosaurs".
The Argentine, famous not only for his remarkable skills but also for a turbulent career that included one of the sport's most conspicuous acts of cheating, said Fifa had been badly run over the years. He also attacked last week's re-election of the Fifa's president, Sepp Blatter, whom he dismissed as a man "who has never kicked a football".
Maradona was speaking in Dubai, where he has signed a contract to manage a local club. He hasn't coached since leading Argentina to last summer's World Cup quarter-finals, but his country's standing in the game suggests that their 4-1 shock thrashing by Nigeria on Wednesday was, to put it mildly, out of character. Sure enough, Fifa yesterday announced it would be investigating the match after betting patterns suggested it was targeted by match-fixers.
It is the latest and highest-profile match yet to attract suspicion and "was one that we had an active interest in, and forms part of a wider ongoing Fifa investigation," it said from its Zurich base on Saturday. The organisation was "working closely" with its betting monitoring agency, Early Warning System, which tracks wagers placed with more than 400 operators.
Hours before the kick-off in Abuja on Wednesday, Fifa President Sepp Blatter launched his "Zero Tolerance" campaign to stop corruption in football. Fifa's 208 member nations also passed new rules to control the organisation of international matches, including the power to veto referee appointments.
Referee Ibrahim Chaibou of Niger awarded two penalties – one to each side – in Wednesday's game. Nigeria took a 2-0 lead with a 26th minute spot-kick. Five minutes of stoppage time was announced at the end of normal time in the match, with play continuing until the 98th minute when Argentina scored with another penalty kick from Mauro Boselli. There was no suggestion that players from either team were involved in manipulating the match result.
Fifa has hired former FBI director Louis Freeh's investigations agency to gather evidence following allegations that Mohamed bin Hammam and Jack Warner offered $40,000 (£24,000) bribes to voters during the presidential campaign. Fifa's ethics committee will summon the two suspended senior officials to a full inquiry expected to be held next month.
Freeh's investigators will interview Caribbean Football Union officials who allegedly were offered bribes at a meeting in Warner's native Trinidad to back bin Hammam's Fifa presidential bid. Bin Hammam withdrew his candidacy last Sunday, hours before Fifa's ethics panel provisionally suspended him and Fifa vice-president Warner. They deny arranging bribes. Blatter, cleared by the ethics panel of turning a blind eye to intended corruption, was re-elected unopposed on Wednesday.
Blatter, it emerged last night, is likely to be among a large contingent of Fifa bosses set to receive some of the most sought-after tickets to events at the London Olympics, including the men's 100 metres sprint final.
The scandal at Fifa broke when Chuck Blazer, the US representative on Fifa's ruling panel, delivered a file of evidence including witness statements from four CFU member countries. Blazer has told the Associated Press that "much more evidence" would emerge.