Soccer Star Diego Maradona Is Expelled from World Cup Summary

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

Diego Maradona, generally regarded as one of the greatest soccer players of the modern era, was a national hero in his native Argentina, for which he helped win the 1986 World Cup. In later years, he developed a drug dependency. At the 1994 World Cup competition in the United States, he tested positive for ephedrine doping and was sent home. He claimed that the International Federation of Association Football had expelled him for innocently using a weight-loss drug that contained traces of ephedrine.

Summary of Event

Even among the greatest of modern soccer players—Pelé, Franz Beckenbauer, Johann Cruiff, Roberto Baggio, Alfredo Di Stéfano, Zico—Diego Maradona was a unique presence. His skill at the world’s most popular sport was unrivaled. Like these other great offensive players, he rose to his best in the World Cup final matches, held every four years and watched by hundreds of millions of fans. [kw]Soccer Star Diego Maradona Is Expelled from World Cup (July 1, 1994) [kw]Maradona Is Expelled from World Cup, Soccer Star Diego (July 1, 1994) Cerrini, Daniel Maradona, Diego Soccer World Cup Argentina Cerrini, Daniel Maradona, Diego Soccer World Cup Argentina [g]Central and South America;July 1, 1994: Soccer Star Diego Maradona Is Expelled from World Cup[02680] [g]Argentina;July 1, 1994: Soccer Star Diego Maradona Is Expelled from World Cup[02680] [g]United States;July 1, 1994: Soccer Star Diego Maradona Is Expelled from World Cup[02680] [c]Drugs;July 1, 1994: Soccer Star Diego Maradona Is Expelled from World Cup[02680] [c]Medicine and health care;July 1, 1994: Soccer Star Diego Maradona Is Expelled from World Cup[02680] [c]Sports;July 1, 1994: Soccer Star Diego Maradona Is Expelled from World Cup[02680] Menem, Carlos

Likewise, Maradona’s play so dominated his national team that he became inextricably associated with Argentina’s image and was the most famous Argentine in the world. However, unlike his peers, who felt a certain obligation thereby to represent their nations in a dignified manner, Maradona at times gave the appearance that he believed that international soccer existed for his benefit. Off the field—and sometimes on as well—he was often embroiled in controversy and seemed but one step from scandal.

Diego Maradona is mobbed by reporters one day before being expelled from World Cup competition for failing a drug test.

(Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Maradona was born on October 30, 1960, in a shanty town outside Buenos Aires. He began playing soccer at the age of three. By the age of twelve he was already well known for his soccer skills and tricks. Starring for several professional soccer clubs, Maradona played in his first World Cup competition in 1982. In 1986, as team captain, he led Argentina to victory at the Mexico World Cup with a brilliant tournament.

The most memorable game of the 1986 cup was the June 22 quarterfinal match between Argentina and England, two countries that had been at war over the Falkland Islands off the coast of Argentina. The two goals that Maradona scored in Argentina’s 2-1 victory are among the most famous in World Cup history. The first goal was the infamous hand of God goal, in which Maradona was accused of illegally knocking the ball into the English net with his hand (the “hand of God,” Maradona claimed). The second goal is considered by many fans to be the greatest in soccer history and has been dubbed the goal of the century. Maradona dribbled the ball 55 yards past five of England’s fabled defenders before shooting it past the superb goalkeeper Peter Shilton. In 1990, Argentina lost the final-round World Cup match to the champion Italian team.

By the 1990’s, however, Maradona was struggling with both a cocaine addiction and a tendency to gain weight. Playing for a Naples, Italy, soccer club, he was under the spotlight of European tabloids for his unruly personal life and under investigation by the Italian police for drug use and Mafia;and Diego Maradona[Maradona] Mafia connections. On March 17, 1991, a random drug test revealed the presence of cocaine in his body. He was banned from professional soccer for fifteen months. When Maradona returned to professional soccer in 1992, he was overweight, depressed, and a diminished presence on the soccer field. His fans—and he himself—saw the 1994 World Cup, to be played over the summer in the United States, as an opportunity for Maradona to restore his tarnished reputation, both on and off field.

In the summer of 1993, Maradona had begun training with Argentine personal trainer and body builder Daniel Cerrini, who prescribed a regimen of intense exercise, rigorous dieting, supplements of vitamins and minerals, and energy-boosting drugs. Soon, Maradona had lost fifteen kilograms (thirty-three pounds) and felt ready for the World Cup. He arrived in the United States during the summer of 1994. Cerrini joined Maradona’s long-time fitness trainer, Signorini, Fernando Fernando Signorini, for the trip as well. During the first two qualifying games, Maradona performed well. He led his team to a 4-0 victory over Greece on June 21 and a well-played 2-1 win against Nigeria four days later. One of the few players of international renown, he was cheered by the American fans in Boston.

Cerrini and Signorini were still disputing Maradona’s ideal weight. Maradona weighed 76.8 kilograms (169 pounds) at the start of the tournament, which was acceptable to Signorini, but Cerrini wanted him at 70 kilograms (154 pounds) and continued to prescribe him diet supplements. Apparently, the team physician, Ernesto Ubalde, was not involved in the diet regimen.

On June 25, during half-time in the Argentina-Nigeria match, two urine samples were collected from Maradona, pursuant to the new random drug-testing policy of the Fédération Internationale de Football Association Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA), which called for testing players during the qualifying rounds. On July 1, the World Cup organizing committee announced that Maradona’s urine test revealed the presence of the stimulant ephedrine and four other substances prohibited by FIFA doping control regulations. Maradona, waiting in Dallas for Argentina’s game against Bulgaria, was immediately suspended from further play. In addition, an investigation was launched into his use of drugs. After his suspension he took a lucrative position as commentator on the games for Argentine television.

On August 24, the organizing committee announced the results of the investigation. Although Maradona was found not to have taken drugs to enhance his performance, and was in fact not even aware of the contents of the drug, he nevertheless was in breach of FIFA regulations. Ultimate responsibility for the infraction was assigned to Cerrini, but FIFA did take into account Maradona’s previous history of drug abuse in holding him partly responsible. Both Maradona and Cerrini were banned from participation in all soccer events for fifteen months and fined twenty thousand Swiss francs. With Maradona off the team, Argentina was soon eliminated from the 1994 World Cup tournament.

The outcry in response to Maradona’s suspension was worldwide. In Dharka, more than twenty thousand Bangladeshis demonstrated in protest. American newspapers, many of which were sympathetic to Maradona, compared the scandal to the one seared in the consciousness of American sports fans—the Black Sox baseball scandal of 1919. In Argentina, fans were devastated. Argentine president Carlos Menem wrote FIFA a five-page letter pleading for clemency for Maradona. Nevertheless, the committee affirmed its decision, recommending that in the future all players’ medical treatments should be under the exclusive supervision of the team physician.


Maradona garnered much sympathy because of his heroic training regimen for the World Cup. By all accounts, his conditioning level was the best it had been in years and he recovered playing skills. When told of his suspension, he said, “They have sawed off my legs.”

Moreover, there is little reason to doubt Maradona’s contention—confirmed by the organizing committee—that the drug infraction was the by-product of his attempt to stabilize his weight, not to enhance his performance. In his 2000 autobiography, published in English in 2007, Maradona claimed that Cerrini had made an innocent mistake. Maradona had run out of his usual supplement, Ripped Fast. Cerrini had substituted the over-the-counter product Ripped Fuel, not knowing that it contained a small amount of ephedrine.

FIFA was required to act on the matter. By expelling Maradona, FIFA took overdue measures against the proliferation of stimulants in soccer, a problem that was increasingly plaguing all sports. While Maradona’s explanation for the accidental presence of ephedrine was plausible, there is no denying its potential for stimulating athletic energy.

The 1994 games would be tragically marred as well by the combination of illegal drug money and the importance of soccer in Latin American culture. When the Colombian defender Andres Escobar returned home after making a well-publicized mistake in the game with the United States, he was gunned down on the crime- and drug-plagued streets of Medellín, Colombia.

Maradona retired from soccer a few years after the doping affair. His drug addiction continued and he eventually had a heart attack in 2004 following a cocaine overdose. Maradona appeared to change after this, becoming free of weight concerns and cocaine addiction. Argentina Cerrini, Daniel Maradona, Diego Soccer World Cup

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Burns, Jimmy. Hand of God: The Life of Diego Maradona. Guilford, Conn.: Lyons Press, 2003. A harsh look at Maradona that discusses the 1994 scandal as an example of Maradona’s indulgence, narcissism, and rebelliousness.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Lisi, Clemente Angelo. A History of the World Cup: 1930-2006. Lanham, Md.: Scarecrow Press, 2007. A journalistic history of the world’s most popular sports event. Chapter 6, “The Hand of God,” explores the career of Maradona.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Maradona, Diego, with Daniel Arcucci and Ernesto Bialo. Maradona: The Autobiography of Soccer’s Greatest and Most Controversial Star. New York: Skyhorse, 2007. Maradona’s candid recollection of his life and career in international soccer, first published in 2000, displays his legendary egotism.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Radnedge, Keir. The Complete Encyclopedia of Soccer. Rev. ed. London: Carlton Books, 2007. Photo-rich survey of modern soccer. Ranks Maradona as the greatest soccer player of the 1980’s and early 1990’s.

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Categories: History