Maradona: Argentina bosses betrayed me

BUENOS AIRES - Diego Maradona accused Argentine football chiefs of betraying him on Wednesday, a day after they voted unanimously to end his tenure as national team coach.

The Argentine Football Association (AFA) decided not to renew Maradona's contract following the team's 4-0 drubbing by Germany in the World Cup quarter-finals.

In his first public comments since the defeat, Maradona took aim at AFA President Julio Grondona and the technical director of national teams, Carlos Bilardo.

"Grondona lied to me, Bilardo betrayed me," a sombre Maradona told a news conference at a restaurant, reading from a prepared statement.

"Grondona told me in the changing room after we were eliminated in South Africa... that he was very pleased with the work I'd done and he wanted me to stay on," he said. "When we were in mourning, Bilardo worked in the shadows to kick me out."

Maradona, who led Argentina to World Cup victory as captain in 1986, was appointed as coach in 2008 despite having very little coaching experience.

During his tumultuous spell in charge, Maradona was banned for two months for a foul-mouthed outburst at a news conference and the squad barely scraped through the qualifiers.

After convincing wins in their opening World Cup games, Argentina became one of the tournament's favourites, but Maradona's dreams of lifting football's most-coveted prize as coach were dashed by the Germans.

Dressed in a navy suit and blue shirt, Maradona appeared in a reflective mood, occasionally appearing to fight back tears as he read from the statement.

He said he was still recovering from the loss to Germany but put some of the blame for the patchy World Cup campaign on AFA.

"They called me to put out a fire and then when I did, this happens," he said, adding that he had taken over the team during a time of crisis and had been dropped before being able to finish the job.

He said he wanted to continue as coach but that during a meeting with Grondona, the AFA head had asked him to replace seven members of his coaching staff.

"He knows it's impossible for me to continue without my coaching staff, Maradona said. "I defend everyone from the masseuse to the assistant because I have values and I'm not going to change."

"I've given my all for the Argentine soccer shirt... to wear this shirt again... And I'm convinced that the players felt this again ... maybe that was my job."

Grondona said he had asked Maradona to stay, but said changes had to be made among the coach's staff team.

"I can't see how there was a betrayal of any kind," Grondona told reporters.

"Perhaps he sees betrayal as trying to make things better. ... the only thing I was looking for was to make a change, not to get rid of Maradona."

President Cristina Fernandez, who has backed Maradona's tenure since the World Cup exit, said she was sad he had been dropped.

"He took over the national team when it was a hot potato and lots of people predicted we wouldn't even qualify for South Africa," Fernandez said at the presidential palace.

"I'm really sad about Diego, I think the team put on a very dignified performance," she said. "I don't know what happened (with Grondona) but it saddens me, they should come together and fix things."

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