Foul! Argentina's president likens herself to mistreated goalkeeper

BUENOS AIRES, June 23 Mon Jun 23, 2014 9:29pm EDT

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BUENOS AIRES, June 23 (Reuters) - While Argentina notches victories in the World Cup, President Cristina Fernandez is grappling with a debt crisis and feels like a goalkeeper facing endless penalties and a biased referee.

"I can be the goalkeeper. The truth is ... given we're in a World Cup mood, they shoot penalties at me, free kicks, they score with their hand ... The referees screw us over two-thirds of the time with terrible bias," Fernandez said at the end of a speech about Argentina's car industry.

Leftist Fernandez did not mention the ongoing battle with investors who refused to take part in bond restructurings after Argentina's catastrophic 2002 default, which plunged millions into poverty.

But she has in the past lambasted holdout creditors as "vultures" who snapped up dirt-cheap bonds planning to drag Argentina into court to make a killing. Her government has also blasted U.S. courts for pushing Latin America's No. 3 economy on the brink of a fresh default.

But after a major legal setback in courts last week, Fernandez softened her tone and agreed to negotiate with the holdouts, something she had vowed never to do.

Eclipsing the debt saga for many in football-crazed Argentina is the ongoing World Cup tournament in neighboring Brazil, where superstar Lionel Messi carries their hopes of clinching a third title.

"We're marching on," Fernandez exclaimed, framed by images of former first lady Eva Peron. "Don't let your guard drop, because in another attack, we'll score another goal!" (Reporting by Alexandra Ulmer; Editing by Simon Gardner and Lisa Shumaker)

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