Maradona asks for more support for U-20 World Cup

Argentine football legend Diego Maradona shoots the ball in a special football match in Suwon, Gyeonggi Province, Tuesday. / Yonhap

SUWON (Yonhap) – Argentine football legend Diego Maradona showed off his skills and entertained delighted South Korean fans in a special football match here Tuesday.

Maradona landed in South Korea on Monday with fellow Argentine football star Pablo Aimar to attend the drawing ceremony for the FIFA U-20 World Cup. The U-20 World Cup, featuring 24 teams, will be played from May 20 to June 11 in six South Korean cities: Cheonan, Daejeon, Incheon, Jeju, Jeonju and Suwon.

Before the draw on Wednesday, Maradona and Aimar took part in a special 5-on-5 mini football match at Hwaseong Haenggung Palace in Suwon, some 30 kilometers south of Seoul, to promote the U-20 World Cup and meet with South Korean fans.

The two footballers faced each other and played alongside South Korean U-20 head coach Shin Tae-yong, actor Ryu Jun-yeol and former footballer Lee Kwan-woo.

In an amusing match in front of hundreds of fans, Team Maradona beat Team Aimar 4-3, thanks to a hat trick by Maradona, who drew two “controversial” penalties and put a smile on the faces of the fans with excessive reactions.

Maradona and Aimar also participated in a charity event named “Shoot for Love,” and donated U-20 World Cup tickets to those in need. They then took a group photo with selected fans.

“I hope South Koreans will pay more attention to the U-20 World Cup,” said Maradona, who visited the country for the first time since 1995. “Although I’m here for the draw, it was fun to see fans here and enjoy time with them. I hope to visit South Korea again.”

The 56-year-old, regarded as one of the greatest players in football history, said he is ready to promote the U-20 World Cup as a FIFA ambassador, the new role he was given last month.

“This tournament is operated by new FIFA with new people,” he said. “My job is to promote these good events by FIFA.”

Maradona was also reunited with Huh Jung-moo, who man-marked him at the 1986 FIFA World Cup. Now working as a deputy commissioner for the South Korean football league, Huh is known for kicking Maradona during their match. They also faced each other as their respective national team head coaches at the 2010 FIFA World Cup, where Argentina beat South Korea 4-1.

“It was nice to see the man (Huh) again,” he said. “Of course, I remember him kicking me. I remember because it happened at the World Cup.”

When asked about his advice to young footballers at the upcoming tournament, Maradona, the winner of the 1979 U-20 World Cup, said: “Enjoy football.”

Aimar, one of the most creative attacking midfielders of his generation, said he also wants football prospects at the U-20 World Cup to have fun. The former River Plate and Valencia man won the 1997 U-20 World Cup with players like Juan Roman Riquelme, Esteban Cambiasso and Walter Samuel.

“Fostering youth footballers is very important,” he said. “When we can raise good young footballers, they will go on to the senior national team and help the country.”

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