27 Nov 2020

Diego Maradona: Thousands bid farewell as Argentina grieves

6:21 am on 27 November 2020

Thousands of fans are paying their final respects to Argentine football legend Diego Maradona at the presidential palace in Buenos Aires.

A man waves t-shirt with a picture of Diego Maradona as fans wait to enter Government House to pay tribute to the late football legend, Buenos Aires, 26 November.

A man holds up a shirt with a picture of Diego Maradona as fans wait to enter the presidential palace, Buenos Aires, to pay tribute to the late football legend. Photo: AFP

Three days of national mourning have begun in Argentina after the national hero died following a heart attack on Wednesday at the age of 60.

Some wept, others blew kisses and said prayers as they filed past the coffin being displayed at the Casa Rosada.

A million people are expected to visit his casket.

Maradona's coffin - draped in Argentina's national flag and football shirt, bearing his trademark number 10 on the back - was expected to be on public display until Thursday afternoon.

There were tense scenes when the Casa Rosada opened its doors, as some fans pushed and shoved against the barriers, which were lined with security forces. His family and former teammates took part in a private ceremony earlier in the day.

Diego Maradona's fans clash with police as they try to get in to Government House to pay tribute to late football legend Diego Maradona, in Buenos Aires, 26 November.

Fans clash with police as they try to get in to the presidential palace to pay tribute to Diego Maradona. Photo: AFP

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 Maradona had suffered "acute heart failure". A spokesman told AFP news agency he would be laid to rest in a cemetery on the outskirts of Buenos Aires, where his parents were also buried.

People queueing along Avenida de Mayo avenue to reach the Casa Rosada presidential palace to pay tribute to late Argentine football legend Diego Maradona. Buenos Aires, 26 November 2020.

Lines of people in Buenos Aires wait to pay their respects. Photo: AFP

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, who he split with in 2004 after 20 years of marriage

Maradona, who played for clubs including Barcelona and Napoli, was captain 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 was one of the most controversial World Cup moments ever.

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.

Fans mourn 'eternal' giant

The death has triggered an outpouring of grief in Argentina and across the world. At 22:00 on Wednesday local time - 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. One fan of the star's former club had tears in his eyes as he explained how much Maradona meant to him.

"Maradona for me is the greatest thing that happened to me in life. I love him as much as my father and it's like my old man died," Cristian Montelli, 22, told Reuters news agency.

"If I die young, hopefully upstairs I can play ball and watch a Boca game with him."

A fan mourns outside the Casa Rosada government house after paying tribute to Argentinian late football legend Diego Maradona,  Buenos Aires, 26 November 2020.

A fan mourns outside the Casa Rosada presidential palace. Photo: AFP

On Wednesday, officials rushed to install cordons and other measures to try to limit the spread of coronavirus, as big crowds gathered on the Argentine capital's Plaza de Mayo after news of the death emerged.

Late into the night, a sea of people in Argentina shirts thronged the streets across the country to mourn Maradona's death, and celebrate his life.

Thousands of miles away in Italy, fans also gathered outside Napoli's San Paolo stadium, which was lit up in tribute to the man who scored 81 goals in 188 appearances for the club.

Fireworks erupted in the sky as those below, clad in Maradona shirts and even Maradona face masks, chanted and wept.

A minute's silence took place before Wednesday's Champions League matches and the same will happen before all other European fixtures this week.


Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs