By Helen Popper
JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - For Diego Maradona's Argentine squad, sex is fine as long as it is not 2 a.m. and accompanied by a bottle of bubbly.
It is one of football's hottest debates; is sex a distraction or can a little bit of what players fancy help ease the strain and tension of World Cup competition?
The polemic resurfaced at the World Cup this week after British newspapers said the pitch-side presence of the Spanish goalkeeper's glamorous girlfriend was being blamed for Spain's shock 1-0 defeat by Switzerland.
All things in moderation is the motto in the Argentine camp, and their virtually guaranteed spot in the second round suggests the liberal line is paying off so far.
"Sex isn't a problem. It's only a problem if they're doing it at two in the morning with a bottle of champagne on the go," team doctor Donato Villani said before coach Maradona and Co. set off for South Africa.
During Argentina's victorious 1986 World Cup campaign, coach Carlos Bilardo, a former gynecologist, said sex was fine as long as "the woman does the hard work."
Hosts South Africa have taken a similarly laid-back position, with the team coach giving a green light to conjugal visits from footballers' wives and girlfriends.
"We're not in prison or a military camp," Carlos Alberto Parreira said before The Boys' opening Group A clash.
At the base of flamboyant favorites and five-times champions Brazil, Dunga says the spirit is live and let live.
"When they're on their own, they can do what they like. Not everyone likes sex, or wine, but everyone has to do whatever they like," he told a recent news conference.
Reinaldo Rueda, coach of Central American underdogs Honduras, has lamented that air tickets are too pricey for some of his players' partners to join them, while a Swiss team spokesman said many wives were simply too busy to come along.
FREE AND EASY
Not all coaches are taking a free-and-easy attitude on the subject.
True to his stern image though hardly his Italian heritage, England coach Fabio Capello is limiting contact between his players and their famous wives and girlfriends, dubbed the WAGS by British media.
Capello will only let England's players see their families one day a week, after matches. "We're going to South Africa to play, not for a holiday," he has said.
The Spanish players are under similar instructions, but that was not enough to avert the controversy over keeper Iker Casillas' girlfriend Sara Carbonero, a reporter who is covering the tournament for Spain's Telecinco channel.
Britain's The Times said a "Spanish inquisition" had erupted after Wednesday's upset, but commentators in Spain said it was absurd to blame the eye-catching presenter.
"Pinning the blame for Spain's defeat on Sara Carbonero is as infantile as claiming that Robert Green's inability to save the ball against the United States was because he was distracted after his girlfriend dumped him," columnist Marivi Fernandez Palacios wrote on the website of El Mundo newspaper.
"I hope they don't feel under pressure because of these cheap shots and can do their work successfully."
(Additional reporting by Javier Leira, Pedro Fonseca, Iain Rogers, Bate Felix and Luis Ampuero in Buenos Aires; editing by Jon Bramley)