It was intimidating to play against Diego Maradona, recalls Indian football team coach Igor Stimac

Before the FIFA World Cup in 1994, when Argentina played an international friendly against Croatia, Stimac had a chance to play against Maradona.
Indian football team coach Igor Stimac (Photo | AP)
Indian football team coach Igor Stimac (Photo | AP)

SPLIT: Igor Stimac, head coach of the Indian men's football team, has paid a rich tribute to Diego Maradona, saying the Argentine was the "king of football".

Maradona, who enthralled fans across the world with his skills, passed away on Wednesday after suffering a cardiac arrest at his home in the Tigre district on the northern outskirts of Buenos Aires.

"Diego Maradona - the "King of Football", the legend. How can someone describe him with one word or just an adjective? After representing my country for so many years and playing for so many clubs over the course of my career, I am still in awe of this maestro," Stimac was quoted as saying by

Stimac played against Maradona on two occasions. Before the FIFA World Cup in 1994, when Argentina played an international friendly against Croatia, Stimac had a chance to play against the legendary footballer.

"His balance and acceleration were things that every defender was scared of. You could barely knock him down while he was running with the ball. His no-look passes were intimidating. We played a friendly match played in Zagreb, Croatia before they would travel to the USA to participate in the 1994 FIFA World Cup. Very often, he was dropping deep to receive the ball, and his long deliveries to (Gabriel) Batistuta and (Caludio) Caniggia were absolutely perfect," said the former Croatia defender.

"He was everywhere on the pitch. Sometimes, he was running past the defender through the right-flank. Next, he was seen playing a quick one-two with the forwards to work an attacking move. It was a menacing task to contain with the deadly attackers, obviously led by none but Diego and as a central defender, it was a real test for me. Thankfully, we came out with a stalemate in front of 38,000-strong Croat supporters at the Maksimir Stadium that night. But, Diego's performance was very, very special that night and we were really fortunate to have shared the pitch with him," he added.

Before that, in the 1992-93 La Liga season, both had faced each other when Maradona represented Sevilla, while Stimac was donning the Cadiz CF shirt.

"During 1992-93 La Liga campaign, I had another opportunity to play against him when he was with Sevilla. He was the biggest star among the stars including Davor Suker, my then national teammate, Diego Simeone, and their FIFA World Cup-winning coach Carlos Bilardo," said Stimac.

Maradona led Argentina to victory at the 1986 FIFA World Cup and was particularly well-known for the two goals he scored against England in the quarter-final clash. One was later voted "Goal of the Century", while the other is generally referred to as the "Hand of God", a reference to the fact that the goal should have been disallowed for handball.

"El Diego had a heart of pure gold. He didn't think twice before expressing himself. He never thought about how people would judge him. He lived on his own terms, left on his terms, rendering us shell-shocked. You will be missed, Diego," Stimac said.

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