- Associated Press - Tuesday, May 24, 2011

BUENOS AIRES, ARGENTINA (AP) - Former Argentina teammates of Diego Maradona back his claims that there were no drug tests before a World Cup playoff with Australia in 1993. They also say they had no knowledge of receiving performance-enhancing drugs.

Maradona said on Argentine television Monday that the players were given an unspecified stimulant before the two-legged playoff to decide which team would qualify for the 1994 World Cup in the U.S.

“What happened is that to play against Australia we were given a speedy coffee. They put something in the coffee and that’s why we ran more,” Maradona told “The Football Show.”

Maradona said Argentine Football Association President Julio Grondona knew about the doping.

“Why weren’t there any anti-doping controls in the match with Australia if we had them in all the other games?” Maradona asked. “They give you 10 anti-doping controls and only the match that decides whether Argentina will go to the United States or not, there is no anti-doping control. That’s the cheat and Grondona knew about it.”

Grondona has made no comment.

In the first game, the teams drew 1-1 in Sydney. Argentina then won 1-0 in Buenos Aires to reach the 1994 tournament.

Maradona’s teammates agreed there were no drug tests before the matches but deny knowingly taking any illegal substances.

“We knew there wasn’t going to be any anti-doping control a few days before, but we didn’t attach any importance to it,” midfielder Hugo Perez told The Associated Press on Tuesday. “We just concentrated on playing, but what Diego said about there being no control is true.”

Perez said it was difficult to give precise details about what happened because it was a long time ago, but remembers the players could drink water or coffee.

Former defender Jose Chamot told Libre newspaper on Tuesday: “I didn’t need those things. Sometimes they gave us vitamins as supplements for the journeys, but nothing more than that. If there had been anything to make the team run faster, I didn’t participate.”

Fellow defender Jorge Borelli also told the newspaper: “I didn’t take any ‘speedy coffee’ … I just drank tea and soft drinks.”

At the 1994 World Cup, Maradona was suspended for testing positive for stimulants after a first-round match against Nigeria. Maradona’s drug problem was an open secret at the time. Argentina lost its round of 16 match against Romania and was eliminated. FIFA subsequently banned Maradona for 15 months.

The feud between Maradona and Grondona first surfaced when Grondona decided not to renew Maradona’s contract as Argentina coach after the 2010 World Cup.

Maradona called for the 79-year-old Grondona, who has led the federation for 32 years, to retire and make way for younger candidates.

“I’m old, but healthy,” Grondona was quoted as saying. “Not like others who aren’t (healthy) and not because of natural problems, but because of created problems.”

Those comments infuriated Maradona, who interpreted them as thinly veiled references to his drug history. Maradona said he has been clean for more than seven years and pledged to sue Grondona.

He also admonished the Argentine government under Cristina Fernandez for protecting Grondona because of a television deal with the AFA to broadcast national league matches for free.

Argentine cabinet chief Anibal Fernandez rejected the idea that Grondona had any special protection.

“Nobody is looking after anybody,” he said on Monday.

Another teammate of Maradona’s said it was time for the mudslinging to stop.

“It’s craziness that this has happened it’s all a political question,” Carlos Mac Allister told the newspaper Clarin.

“They want to get rid of Grondona and they don’t realize that they are involving and dirtying many people. History will tell who is who,” he added.

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