IRVING, TEX., JUNE 30 -- Argentine soccer star Diego Maradona, who had overcome problems with cocaine to spark his national team to early success in the 1994 World Cup, was removed from the team by the Argentina soccer federation and indefinitely suspended from all soccer activity by the sport's world governing body today after testing positive for five banned stimulants.
Maradona, 33, tested positive following Argentina's 2-1 Group D first-round victory over Nigeria last Saturday in Foxboro, Mass. The match's result was allowed to stand today by a specially convened subcommittee of the Federation Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) World Cup Organizing Committee that met here and handed down the suspension.
"The medical evidence was clear and we couldn't hide it," FIFA President Joao Havelange said after making a dramatic appearance near the end of a packed news conference at the resort hotel that is serving as FIFA's headquarters here. "Maradona will always be one of the greatest soccer stars of all time. But FIFA has its rules and principles."
Later in the day, a tearful Maradona denied having taken illegal substances and wished his teammates well in an interview with a Buenos Aires television station.
"I didn't take drugs and above all I did not let down those who love me," Maradona said in an interview aired minutes before tonight's match against Bulgaria.
Maradona will remain under suspension, pending the outcome of a final disciplinary ruling by the FIFA World Cup Organizing Committee. That ruling will be made sometime after the World Cup's completion July 17. Alan Rothenberg, the chairman and CEO of the U.S. organizing committee and a member of the FIFA organizing committee, said the FIFA organizing committee already has tentatively scheduled a meeting to review this tournament for late August or early September and may address Maradona's situation at that point.
"I think he will be suspended at least for a certain time," said Horst Schmidt of Germany, another member of the FIFA organizing committee who added that he believes Maradona's past will be a factor in any sanction the panel hands down.
Maradona received a 15-month worldwide suspension from FIFA in 1991, when he tested positive for cocaine while playing for Naples of the Italian League. Two months later, he was arrested for cocaine possession in Buenos Aires -- an incident for which he received a suspended jail sentence.
In this case, he tested positive for ephedrine, norephedrine, metephedrine, normetephedrine and pseudoephedrine. Experts said all of these substances are common ingredients of nonprescription cold, cough and allergy medications.
All of these substances also act as stimulants, said Michel D'Hooghe, a Belgian physician who heads FIFA's medical committee and was part of today's FIFA organizing committee discussions.
"It is absolutely scientifically proven that these products have a positive action on the central nervous system, increasing concentration and increasing physical ability," D'Hooge said.
FIFA distributes its list of banned substances to all national federations. It also allows the medical staff of each team to submit a list of medications that have been given to any of the team's players.
Maradona's name appeared on Argentina's list for the game against Nigeria, FIFA General Secretary Joseph Blatter said, but D'Hooge said that none of the five substances for which Maradona tested positive are found in any of the medications Maradona was listed to have received.
In addition, D'Hooge said FIFA "did not find one single product on the market ... containing precisely the five products" for which Maradona tested positive. So, the FIFA organizing committee panel supposes that whatever Maradona ingested "must be a cocktail," D'Hooge said.
Schmidt said he believed this combination of substances was "mixed for Maradona. The important question is whether it was for stimulant purposes."
However, other experts said that the combination of drugs could have been the result of a taking more than one over-the-counter medication. Ernest Ugalde, the Argentine team doctor, said Maradona had taken two medicines, Decidex and Naftizol, which he obtained in Argentina. Ugalde said Maradona had complained of a "mild allergy."
Under FIFA rules, two randomly selected players from each team are required to give a urine sample after each World Cup match. The selected players each give two samples at the same time -- one that is designated Sample A, one that is designated Sample B.
If Sample A tests positive, the head of that team's delegation can request that Sample B be analyzed. The team delegation and the player have the right to be represented when Sample B is analyzed.
If Sample B also tests positive, the FIFA World Cup Organizing Committee forms a special panel to deal with the case. The analysis of the samples occurs at the same lab at UCLA that is used for Olympic doping control.
Blatter said FIFA officials were told Tuesday that Maradona's Sample A had tested positive. FIFA informed the Argentina delegation the same day. The delegation requested the Sample B analysis, which was conducted Wednesday in Los Angeles with representatives of the delegation and Maradona present.
Blatter said FIFA officials were told today at 2 a.m. (CDT) that Sample B also had tested positive.
Staff writer Santiago O'Donnell contributed to this report.