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Maradona out of critical condition
Updated: 2004-04-24 09:33

Argentine football legend Diego Maradona came off the critical list Thursday as his family and supporters vowed to take action to protect him from the "bad influences" that caused his downfall.

Former Argentina soccer star Diego Maradona (center with black cap) poses at the Great Wall of China north of Beijing Saturday Nov. 22, 2003. Maradona is on a tour of China to promote his autobiography, and a clothing line. [AP]
Maradona, who has been battling a drug addiction for years, has been in an intensive care with acute heart and breathing problems since Sunday and was at times reported to be fighting for his life.

Doctors at the exclusive Swiss-Argentine clinic where Maradona was being treated said they hoped to take the 43-year-old off a respirator within 24 hours.

A statement from the clinic said the doses of drugs used to treat his heart condition had been reduced and the results had been encouraging. Doctors also noted an improvement in Maradona's breathing.

"If the results of the respiratory tests remain adequate, we will evaluate whether to take away the respirator in the next 24 hours," the statement said.

"The critical phase has passed. Diego is very strong. His heart is unbelievable and it has almost returned to its normal state. It is still enlarged, but it is working normally," Maradona's personal physician, Alfredo Cahe, said.

Cahe has refused to say if Maradona's problems were drug-related.

Maradona only recently returned from Cuba where he was meant to be seeking treatment for his addiction. But he has appeared obese and visibly exhausted.

Since his admission to the clinic just hours after watching his former team, Boca Juniors, play, only his parents, his ex-wife, Claudia Villafane, his two daughters and several close friends have been allowed to see him.

"I want to say that I am very happy that Papa is getting better every day," Maradona's eldest daughter, Dalma Maradona, 17, said.

His nephew, Daniel Lopez, said he blamed the family for allowing the once muscular and fleet-footed Maradona to grow obese and bloated.

"We should have been closer to him," said Lopez. "I feel a little responsible for what has happened to Diego.

"We could not help him because we were prevented from doing so by people who were around him at that time."

The concerns of Maradona's family were echoed by FIFA President Sepp Blatter, who said the Argentine "had everything on his side to recover.

"But he is often badly advised and keeps bad company."

Boca Juniors beat Bolivian side Bolivar 3-0 in Buenos Aires late Wednesday in the Libertadores Cup and throughout the match, the 30,000 fans sang songs in honour of the Argentine idol and the players carried a banner onto the field saying: "Courage Diego."

Dalma Maradona thanked the players and fans who have brought tributes to the clinic.

Maradona became addicted to cocaine during a seven-year spell playing for Napoli in Italy from 1984-91. He was banned for 15 months after testing positive in 1991.

Maradona's roller-coaster career, which included 34 goals in 91 matches for Argentina, began in 1975 and ended in 1997.

He led Argentina to their second World Cup in 1986 after winning a controversial quarter-final against England, when he scored his "Hand of God" goal by fisting the ball over England goalkeeper Peter Shilton's outstretched hands.

Maradona led Argentina to the final of the 1990 World Cup in Italy, but he was a fading force and West Germany took the trophy.

He played in his fourth World Cup in the United States in 1994 but tested positive for a cocktail of drugs and was thrown out of the tournament.

In recent years Maradona sought treatment for his addiction to drugs in Cuba, where he was often seen alongside the country's president, Fidel Castro.

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