Maradona tells refs: Let's play fair

PRETORIA - Diego Maradona, scorer of the infamous Hand of God goal in the finals of 1986, made a strong plea for fair play on the opening day of the World Cup on Friday.

"Let there really be fair play, let the referees understand what the words fair play mean," Argentina's coach, targetting fouling, told a news conference.

Argentina make their Group B entrance on Saturday against Nigeria, a team he described as "rough and hard and we're prepared for that".

Maradona, speaking a few hours before the tournament's opening match between hosts South Africa and Mexico, suggested that when the FIFA yellow Fair Play banner is carried on to the pitch before matches by a quartet of boys it should not remain an empty gesture.

"Let's not abandon the little boys," said Maradona, accused of cheating after his handball goal helped Argentina to a 2-1 quarter-final win over England on their way to lifting their second world title in Mexico in 1986.

"When the fair play (slogan) was introduced in 1990 I was kicked so hard they almost knocked my head off against Cameroon," Maradona said.

Cameroon upset then title holders Argentina 1-0 in the opening match of the World Cup in Italy 20 years ago but their rugged defence had two players sent off.

"And we had to swallow the yellow card of (Claudio) Caniggia's hand ball and compared with the kick I got from Cameroon he was Heidi," Maradona told a packed news conference.

Caniggia, Argentina's best forward at the 1990 tournament, was suspended for that second yellow in the tournament and missed the Rome final which Argentina lost 1-0 to West Germany.

Argentina have faced Nigeria twice before in the group stage at the World Cup, beating them 2-1 in the U.S. in 1994 and 1-0 in Japan in 2002.

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