DUBAI // When it comes to seven-a-side football, Fifa's Joint-Player of the Century is hardly a bad ringer to be able to call upon. So it was for Dubai Sports Council this weekend, who welcomed Diego Maradona into their ranks for a Government Entities League Over 38 play-off match.
On Thursday night, at the Dubai Police Officers' Club, the barrel-chested Argentine, 52, rolled back the years in front of a small crowd of players, media and fans, including his daughter, Dalma.
Puffing on the remnants of a cigarette, Maradona turned up a few minutes before kick off and declined a chance to stretch.
Wearing the No 10 he made so famous, the 1986 World Cup winner's movement was slow and staggered, yet his first meaningful touch - after two minutes of a 15-minute first half - was a deceptive shimmy that won his team a corner.
Playing as the focal point of DSC's attack, he proved isolated and ineffective as his opponents showed better organisation to deservedly take the lead after four minutes. A minute later they doubled their advantage from the penalty spot. With things not going to plan, Maradona's patience started to wear thin. He may have gained a gut, in middle age, but he has not lost the fire in his belly.
After castigating the referee for the harsh penalty decision, he turned his attention to his opponents, who he vehemently complained were under age. When they threatened to make it 3-0, he pulled off his shirt and stormed off the pitch.
The former Al Wasl manager returned to the field a few minutes later to see his clever free kick plucked out of the air. When the half-time whistle came it was greeted with a barrage of abuse from Maradona, who shouted at his opponents: "Next time, I will bring players under age and you won't stand a chance!"
Considering that he is close to the likes of Sergio Aguero and Lionel Messi, it is difficult to doubt such an assertion.
In the second half, he dropped a little deeper and demanded more of the ball. His close-control has not diminished and he offered a couple of glimpses of real skill, most notably when he caught the ball on his left knee, switched it to his right, knocked it in front of him and fired a looping volley that just failed to dip quickly enough.
A range of clever cross-field passes must have left him exasperated as his teammates failed to capitalise, and when the final whistle sounded to mark a 2-0 defeat, Maradona quickly grabbed his sports bag, dismissed the autograph hunters and disappeared down the tunnel.
Even at 52, defeat clearly still rankles the man with the magic feet.
At least he cut a cooler and calmer figure in a dapper grey suit at the Dubai World Cup at Meydan Racecourse yesterday.
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