Friday, June 18

Diego Maradona: Huge crowds bid farewell as Argentina grieves

media captionHuge crowds gathered at the Casa Rosada in the hope of seeing Diego Maradona’s coffin

Huge crowds of fans have been paying their final respects to football legend Diego Maradona in the Argentine capital Buenos Aires.

Thousands filed past the footballer’s coffin, weeping, blowing kisses and praying. Later people lined the streets as his funeral cortege passed by.

But there were tense scenes as police tried to control unruly crowds.

Three days of national mourning have begun after the national hero died of a heart attack on Wednesday aged 60.

Maradona’s coffin – draped in Argentina’s national flag and football shirt, bearing his trademark number 10 on the back – was on public display at the presidential palace on Thursday.

By mid-afternoon queues stretched back for more than a kilometre, and police clashed with mourners as they tried to close off the palace in anticipation of the wake scheduled for 16:00 local time (19:00 GMT).

There were reports of tear gas and rubber bullets being used as officers in riot gear struggled to hold back the crowd.

media captionDiego Maradona “will live in our heart forever”

One well-wisher, Rubén Hernández, thought the police had overreacted.

“We were calm lining up and suddenly, the police started to fire rubber bullets,” he said, quoted by Reuters news agency. “Crazy, I just want to say goodbye to Diego.”

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The authorities then extended access to the casket for a couple more hours, but it was still not enough for many mourners to reach the coffin.

The motorised funeral cortege then drove his body to the Bella Vista cemetery on the outskirts of the city, where he will be buried in a private ceremony.

Emotions run high

All day mourners filed through the doors of the presidential palace.

The queues stretched for several blocks outside – in a country hard-hit by coronavirus, otherwise strict rules were being ignored for Argentina’s footballing superstar.

People mostly waited patiently, breaking into song to keep the spirits up and to remember the good times.

But as the day went on and the summer temperatures rose, emotions also ran high. Authorities had to stop public viewing of the coffin to keep the peace.

Diego Maradona was Argentina’s wildchild – loved despite his flaws, celebrated beyond measure.

As his family prepares to bury him, Argentina doesn’t want to forget.

‘He was everything for us’

Meanwhile at the Italian club Napoli, where Maradona played for seven years and was assigned God-like status, fans flocked to the stadium to pay their respects chanting “Diego, Diego!”.

It is the second day people have defied a coronavirus lockdown to pay tribute, ahead of Napoli’s closed-door Europa League fixture against the Croatian team Rijeka.

The Napoli team, who all stepped onto the pitch wearing black armbands and Maradona’s No. 10 jersey, won the match 2-0.

image copyrightReuters

image captionPolice struggled to control the crowds as they queued to see the coffin
image copyrightCasa Rosada
image captionSome fans clapped, others wept, as they filed past Maradona’s coffin

“He was unique, he represented everything, everything for us Neapolitans,” fan Gianni Autiero told Reuters. “I have cried for only a few people in my life, and Diego is one of them.”

One of the greatest football players of all time, Maradona had a troubled personal life marked by cocaine and alcohol addiction. He had successful surgery on a brain blood clot earlier in November and was to be treated for alcohol dependency.

Local media said the preliminary results of an autopsy showed he had suffered “acute heart failure”.

media captionWatch all of Maradona’s World Cup goals

The former Argentina attacking midfielder and manager died at his home in Tigre, near Buenos Aires. The last person to see Maradona alive was his nephew Johnny Esposito, according to statements gathered by officials.

Maradona is survived by five children and his former wife, 58-year-old Claudia Villafane, whom he split with in 2004 after 20 years of marriage.

The death triggered an outpouring of grief in Argentina and across the world. At 22:00 on Wednesday (01:00 GMT) – an hour chosen to match the number on his shirt – stadiums across Argentina switched on their floodlights to honour his memory.

Fans flocked to La Bombonera, Boca Juniors’ stadium in Buenos Aires, where many were in tears.

image copyrightReuters
image captionMaradona was also revered in the Italian city of Naples, where he played club football for seven years

Maradona, who also played for Barcelona, was captain of the national team when Argentina won the 1986 World Cup, scoring the famous “Hand of God” goal against England in the quarter-finals.

To score the goal, Maradona used his hand to deflect the ball past England goalkeeper Peter Shilton, but the referee did not see it. It remains one of the most controversial World Cup moments.

Former Tottenham midfielder Ossie Ardiles, who played alongside Maradona at the 1982 World Cup, said he was “a god” in Argentina, in Naples and all around the world.

The footballing world pays tribute

Ardiles said today’s football superstars “could not even dream” of being admired as much as Maradona was.

“He will be remembered as a genius in football,” he told the BBC. “You can see the extraordinary amount of interest that he generates.”

When the news of Maradona’s death broke, Argentina and Barcelona forward Lionel Messi led tributes, writing on social media: “He has left us but he will never leave us because Diego is eternal.”

Former England striker and Match of the Day host Gary Lineker, who was part of the England team beaten by Argentina at the 1986 World Cup, said Maradona was “by some distance, the best player of my generation and arguably the greatest of all time”.

In a statement on social media, the Argentine Football Association expressed “its deepest sorrow for the death of our legend”, adding: “You will always be in our hearts.”

Related Topics

  • Diego Maradona

  • Argentina

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