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Maradona: Brazil 'lucky' to win Cup

Updated: Monday July 01, 2002 05:46 a.m. ET
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TOKYO (Reuters) -- Diego Maradona has dismissed Brazil as a "mediocre" team who were lucky to win the World Cup.

Maradona, who won the World Cup with Argentina in Mexico in 1986 and was a runner-up in Italy four years later, also criticized the quality of the football during an upset-filled tournament in South Korea and Japan. (Maradona: Pele 'freezing me out' of FIFA.)

"The final summed up the level of the tournament. It was a poor match. Brazil are just a collection of individuals. They don't play as a team," the 41-year-old told a news conference on Monday.

"Brazil were playing one of the worst Germany teams I have seen in my life. They were lucky that they had a striker [Ronaldo] who hit top form at the right time."

Maradona, who arrived in Japan on Friday after initially being refused entry into the country because of his history of substance abuse, insisted nevertheless that Ronaldo should not win the coveted "Golden Ball" award.

Ronaldo erased the nightmare of the 1998 World Cup final by scoring both goals against Germany in Sunday's 2-0 win to take his tally in the finals to eight.

Maradona, though, said: "It would be lie to say he has been the best player in the tournament. He missed two easy chances in the final that showed his knees are still not right.

"A Ronaldo with good knees has so many more options. You could give it to him for his passion and heart but I think Rivaldo or Roberto Carlos deserve it more."

'Mentally exhausted'

Maradona, who is undergoing drug rehabilitation treatment in Havana, blamed FIFA for putting sponsor money first by "overloading" playing schedules ahead of the World Cup.

"How can you expect the players to always be at 100 percent when they don't get time to rest between competitions? Look at [Zinedine] Zidane. There was so much pressure on him to deliver but he was physically and mentally exhausted," said Maradona.

"The players were at saturation point after a long season and then they come to the World Cup. There is too much expected of them. No wonder you get all these injuries. FIFA should do more to protect the players."

But if Maradona, who will forever be remembered by England fans for his "hand of God" goal in the Mexico World Cup, felt sympathy for Zidane, he did not for David Beckham.

"Fame is gauged on what you do on the pitch at the World Cup. People talk about 'Beckham-mania' but I don't see David Beckham with the World Cup trophy," he shrugged.

"Beckham scored a penalty [to defeat Argentina 1-0] that shouldn't have been a penalty but England still went out in the quarterfinals. That's no reason to go out and buy a Beckham shirt."

Copyright 2002 Reuters Limited. All rights reserved.