Buenos Aires: Former Argentina teammates of Diego Maradona confirm his claims that there were no doping controls before World Cup playoffs with Australia in 1993, but said they had no knowledge of receiving performance-enhancing drugs.
Former Australia captain Paul Wade said in publish comments on Wednesday that Argentina was under so much pressure to qualify for the 1994 finals that he would not be surprised if they had resorted to taking performance-enhancing drugs.
He added he was "absolutely gutted" after hearing of Maradona's comments.
Maradona said on Argentine television on 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. He said Argentina faced doping controls before every qualifier until the playoffs with Australia. "That's the cheat and Grondona knew about it," Maradona said.
Grondona has made no comment.
Argentina drew the first match in Sydney 1-1 and won the return 1-0 in Buenos Aires to secure a berth in the 1994 tournament.
Maradona's teammates agreed there were no drug tests before the matches but deny consciously 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 either water or coffee.
Former defender Jose Chamot said it would be "illegal" to take illegal substances "even if there were no anti-doping control."
"I didn't need those things," Chamot told Libre newspaper.
"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 told the newspaper: "I didn't take any 'speedy coffee' ... I just drank tea and soft drinks."
Socceroos skipper Wade marked Maradona in both playoff matches.
"I remember when we went over there for the return match the president of Argentina said nothing less than a victory over Australia would be acceptable," he told The Australian newspaper. "He said there would be a national day of mourning if they lost.
"It wouldn't surprise me if they had taken those things (drugs). They were playing a relatively backwater football nation and if we had beaten them can you imagine what would have happened?"
At the 1994 World Cup, Maradona was suspended for testing positive for stimulants after a first-round match against Nigeria.
Although Maradona's footballing prowess was on the wane and his drug problem was an open secret, Argentina lost its last-16 match against Romania and was eliminated.
FIFA subsequently banned Maradona for 15 months.
The feud between Maradona and Grondona first erupted when Grondona decided not to renew Maradona's contract as Argentina coach after the 2010 World Cup.
Maradona called for the 79-year-old, who has led the AFA 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 much-publicized battle with drugs.
Maradona claimed 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," said Carlos Mac Allister, in remarks quoted by Clarin newspaper on Tuesday.
"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," Mac Allister added.