ARG 1 NGA 0: Diego Maradona’s naked jungle

DIEGO Maradona is definitely mellowing. Judging by one pre-match pronouncement, he is now marginally less subversive than Keith Chegwin.

That pronouncement, if you missed it, was this: Maradona has pledged to run naked through the streets of Buenos Aires if he leads Argentina to World Cup victory.

If Fabio Capello, or Raymond Domenech, or Otto Rehhagel had promised to do this, then there would be cause for raised eyebrows. If Sven had made that pledge, there would be cause for dropping jaws.

But if you were to compile a list of outrageous things that Maradona has done, running naked through the streets of Argentina’s capital wouldn’t even be a contender for the top 100.

(That last sentence, however, may contain an idea for Channel 4 to fill three hours of television on a Saturday night at some point over the next month, if they can get hold of Jason Manford and Shovell from M People to do the talking heads bit.)

I wouldn’t run naked through the streets of Buenos Aires, but that’s because I’m not really into that kind of stuff. But it’s pretty tame stuff by Maradona standards. This is a man who FIFA sent home from the 1994 World Cup for failing a drug test, who has suffered in the past with cocaine addiction, who once shot at journalists with an air rifle and who has been in dispute with the Italian authorities within the last 18 months over allegedly unpaid tax bills.

Getting his kit off in public for an hour or two? Pah. That’s nothing by comparison. It’s been done before, and by a former children’s TV presenter.

Chegwin, you’ve probably forgotten, hosted a game show for Channel Five 10 years ago called Naked Jungle, in which he and the contestants were completely starkers.

From what I’ve seen, the show seem to consist of the contestants attempting to complete sub-Crystal Maze physical challenges while Cheggers attempted to figure out where his career had gone. Maybe that’s where Diego got the idea from. But Cheggers did it first.

Maradona’s men almost didn’t make it to the World Cup, having been spectacularly rubbish for much of the qualifying campaign. When they did secure qualification with a victory in Uruguay, Maradona went on a spectacular rant in his post-match press conference, telling reporters that they “take it up the arse” and adding that the world’s media should “suck it and keep on sucking”.

Makes Roy Keane seem a bit tame really, don’t you think? Maradona’s bushy grey beard is more impressive than Keano’s ever was too.

Maradona took his first step towards full frontal nudity this afternoon as Argentina recorded a deserved victory over Nigeria at Ellis Park in Johannesburg. Gabriel Heinze’s first-half header provided the only goal, but Argentina should have had more.

As the BBC’s no-nonsense co-commentator Mick McCarthy put it: “Argentina have absolutely mullered them.” In that case, perhaps the narrow margin of victory made this a “muller lite”. (I’m sorry.)

No team ever wins the World Cup in the first week. Argentina memorably thrashed Serbia and Montenegro 6-0 in the group stages four years ago, with Esteban Cambiasso finishing off possibly the greatest team goal ever scored at a major international tournament. But they went out in the quarter-finals.

Maradona, who watched from the stands in Gelsenkirchen that day, will be aware that Argentina have work to do this time around, and that they look vulnerable in defence, particularly on the right-hand side, where Jonas Guiterrez looks anything but a full-back.

But any side boasting a front three of Gonzalo Higuain, Lionel Messi and Carlos Tevez must have a chance of winning the tournament. I suspect their manager would bet his underpants on it.

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