Argentines bid farewell to Maradona as nation mourns flawed hero
November 26, 2020 08:00 PM NPT
BUENOS AIRES, Nov 26: Argentines lined up in the streets of Buenos Aires on Thursday to say goodbye to soccer great Diego Maradona, whose casket lay in state at the Casa Rosada presidential palace draped in an Argentine flag and his famous no. 10 shirt.
Maradona, Argentina’s favorite son whose life was marred by struggles with addiction, died aged 60 following a heart attack at home on Wednesday. Huge crowds are expected to pay their respects as part of three days of national mourning.
Early on Thursday, thousands were already forming a snaking line through the streets near the central Plaza de Mayo after a night of mourning and reminiscing. Some scuffles broke out as fans tried to get inside the palace to see their hero.
Maradona’s body lay in a wooden coffin with the blue and white national flag and an Argentina soccer jersey with the number 10 that had been part of his nickname “D10S” - a play on “dios”, the Spanish word for God.
Fans held back by a barrier threw things towards the casket, including soccer shirts, as they tried to get near the player, who had become a hero in Argentina and beyond both on and off the pitch despite his well-documented flaws.
“He was someone who touched the sky with his hands but never took his feet off the ground,” President Alberto Fernandez said on Wednesday.
Major athletes and world leaders, including Argentina-born Pope Francis, have paid tribute to Maradona.
On Wednesday, tens of thousands of Argentines took to the streets to mourn him, leaving flowers and messages at his childhood home and former soccer club Boca Juniors.
Diego, Pelusa, or simply God, as Maradona was known, had a long career that included leading the South American nation to World Cup glory in 1986. Pelusa, which means fluff in Spanish, referred to Maradona’s prominent mane of hair at the height of his playing days.
The 1986 tournament included a quarter-final game against England where Maradona scored two of the best-known World Cup goals ever - an illicit “Hand of God” goal and one that followed an incredible swerving, dribble.
Maradona battled various health problems over the years as a result of his addictions. Earlier this month, he was hospitalized for symptoms including anemia and dehydration and underwent emergency surgery for a subdural hematoma - a blood clot in the brain.
A 2005 television clip circulated in local media in which Maradona shared what he would say at his own funeral.
“Thank you for having played football, because it is the sport that gave me the most joy, the most freedom,” Maradona said. “It is like touching the sky with my hands. Thanks to the ball.”