Diego Maradona has eased fears over his health after needing to be seen by paramedics during Argentina’s dramatic 2-1 victory over Nigeria on Tuesday night, with the World Cup legend insisting he is “fine” and that his scare was simply due to too much white wine.
Maradona was at the St Petersburg Stadium to cheer on Argentina in their must-win encounter against the African nation, with a late goal from Manchester United defender Marcos Rojo ensuring that the 2014 World Cup finalists beat both Nigeria and Iceland to the second qualification berth in Group D.
The 1986 World Cup winner was very much the centre of attention throughout the evening as he waved to fans, soaked up their adulation and passionately cheered on the South American side. He also landed himself in controversy after being shown on live television swearing at fans in the immediate aftermath of Rojo’s winner.
However, fears were quickly raised over his half after videos emerged on social media showing Maradona being assisted from his seat, before a picture of him with paramedics surfaced. Reports claimed that he was taken to hospital, but Maradona himself has announced that he did not require hospital treatment.
Maradona sent a voice message to fellow Argentinian Daniel Arcucci, urging the journalist to publish it so that everyone knew he was alive and well, following a series of false death reports on social media.
“I swear on the lives of my mum, my grandson Benjamin and my son Dieguito Fernando’s life that nothing happened,” Maradona could be heard saying.
“At the end of the first half we went to eat. I like red wine and there was white wine.”
“Where we were they were only serving white wine. Yes, we drank all the wine, but now I’m talking to you and I’m telling you the truth.
Maradona also contacted his partner, Rocio Oliva, to say that he was fine and that she should not believe false reports on social media that he had suffered heart trouble or anything worse.
“Hello my love. No heart attack, no injection, nothing,” Maradona said in a WhatsApp message.
“I don’t know where they’re getting it from that I had heart problems or I had to be an adrenaline shot.
“It all seems so mad, so stupid.”
However, a second message appeared to contradict what he said to Arcucci as he denied having any alcohol.
“It’s 3am and we’re just getting back to Moscow without any problems. No alcohol or important story.”
Explained what was wrong with him, Maradona said on Instagram that he was suffering from neck pain at half-time and had ignored medical advice to go home before the end of the game.
"I want to tell everyone that I am fine, that I am not [ill], neither was I [admitted to hospital],” Maradona wrote.
"At half-time of the game against Nigeria, my neck hurt a lot... I was checked by a doctor and he recommended me to go home before the second half, but I wanted to stay because we were risking it all. How could I leave? I send a kiss to everyone, thanks for the support!"
Patricia Villegas, president of Latin American broadcaster teleSUR, also played down those fears by posting an image on social media later in the night that showed Maradona in much better health, as she boarded a flight with the 57-year-old back to Moscow.
Villegas said: "1:41am Russia. About to (fly). Diego: Are you in hospital?"
Maradona had earlier been filmed manically celebrating Rojo’s late winning goal and swearing at supporters and was branded a “laughing stock” by BBC presenter Gary Lineker.
As television cameras swung his way, seconds after the ball hit the back of Nigeria’s net, Maradona thrust middle-finger gestures with both hands.
“There's Diego Maradona celebrating,” said Lineker. “I think he might make the papers for a different kind of celebration, there's a danger he's becoming a laughing stock I'm afraid.
“[He's] let himself down with that celebration. You understand how he's euphoric, but this kind of reaction... Really, Diego?”
Former England and Manchester United defender Rio Ferdinand was also less impressed with Maradona's antics. “His career as a football player on the pitch was up there with the best,” added pundit Rio Ferdinand.
“Unfortunately there are moments like this that do arise it's not nice to see that let him down.”
BBC sports presenter Dan Walker wrote on Twitter: “And that’s why you don’t show Maradona no matter how good he was in his prime.”
It is not the first time that Maradona has made the headlines for his antics in Russia.
He was accused of making a racist gesture by ITV presenter Jacqui Oatley while watching the 1-1 draw between Argentina and Iceland last week.
“Maradona not so cool now. Some South Korea fans just shouted “Diego” and he obliged with a smile, kiss and wave. Then pulled his eyes to the side in a clearly racist gesture. All of us who saw it are stunned,” Oatley posted on Twitter.
Maradona is widely regarded as one of the best players ever to grace the game, famous for driving Argentina to glory at Mexico 86, helped by his ‘Hand of God’ goal against England.
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