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Maradona apologizes to Platini though not Pele

By Rex Gowar

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - Diego Maradona made a public apology to Michel Platini but not Pele at the World Cup on Thursday after hitting back at his fellow greats after media reports that they had criticized his coaching ability.

"I want to send my apologies, through you (reporters), to Mr Platini... but not Pele," Maradona told a news conference after producing a letter he said was from the French UEFA president.

"The other day I spoke about Mr Platini. Mr Platini sent me a letter, saying that he never said what you (reporters) told me he had said," added Maradona after his Argentina team's 4-1 win over South Korea in Group B at Soccer City.

Platini was reported to have said Maradona was only a good coach as a player, implying he was not any good now.

Maradona had slammed the pair on Wednesday, telling old foe Pele he should "go back to the museum" while insulting all French people with his criticism of Platini as arrogant.

Maradona also had an unexpected answer to a reporter's question on whether love would win the World Cup given the hugging and kissing that goes on in Argentina's squad.

"I love women... so people don't think I've turned over," Maradona exclaimed with wide eyes and made a gesture with his hand.

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Maradona praised his players for putting Argentina on the verge of qualification for the knockout stage after two wins.

"Argentina played a great match and were unforgiving. We deserved to give ourselves such a win. In (our 1-0 victory over) Nigeria we had come close to playing a match like this but we couldn't achieve it on the scoreboard," Maradona said.

"Argentina controlled the ball at will (today). Korea never dominated, they never found the answer to our game apart from one counter-attack," he added.

Maradona did not blame defender Martin Demichelis for the mistake that gifted the Koreans their goal on the stroke of halftime, saying such a setback merely made his team stronger and determined to play better in the second half.

Central defender Walter Samuel came off midway through the first half with a leg muscle strain but team spokesman Andres Ventura said: "We don't think it's a pull but he'll have to do some tests."

Samuel, who was replaced by the impressive Nicolas Burdisso, will probably miss their final group match against Greece on Tuesday in which a draw will be enough for them to qualify.

(Editing by Ken Ferris)