Sports Illustrated
Thursday July 1, 2004

Castro invites Maradona to return to Cuba

HAVANA (AP) -- President Fidel Castro characterized himself as a friend and admirer of Diego Maradona and said he hopes the former soccer superstar can return to Cuba, where he spent several years undergoing treatment for drug problems.

"I hope he can come," Castro told reporters late Wednesday during a reception at the home Argentine Ambassador Raul Taleb. The 43-year-old Maradona has been undergoing medical treatment in his native Argentina in recent weeks for serious lung and heart problems.

The Cuban leader said he recently had a "friendly" telephone conversation with Maradona, who bears a tattoo of Castro's face on one leg.

"He has struggled with the problem he had and it hasn't been easy," Castro said of Maradona. "He is a person who has prestige, fame. I think he is a noble guy and undoubtedly a great athlete."

Castro's visit to the reception was not announced in advance. During several hours he spoke behind closed doors with Argentine diplomats and businessmen, then answering reporters' questions before leaving the residence around midnight.

Maradona in recent months has repeatedly said he wants to return to Cuba, but his family has fought to keep him in Argentina for a series of ongoing health problems.

Maradona came to Cuba for drug treatment in early 2000, after being hospitalized in Uruguay with a severe heart condition, and stayed here for the better part of three years. His most recent round of health problems emerged while visiting Argentina.

In his 20-year career, Maradona led his country to the 1986 World Cup title and the 1990 World Cup final. He also won Italian and Argentine league titles.

In 2000, FIFA chose him and Pele as the greatest players in soccer history. He retired in 1997.

Maradona was suspended from the Italian league while playing for Napoli in 1991 for 15 months following a positive test for cocaine. Three years later, FIFA suspended him for 15 months for a positive drug test at the World Cup finals in the United States.

Copyright 2004 Associated Press.