Tearful thousands bid farewell to Maradona in Argentina

Fans blew kisses as they passed Maradona’s wooden casket in the main lobby of the presidential Casa Rosada.

A fan displays a flag depicting Diego Maradona while queueing to walk into Casa Rosada during Diego Maradona's funeral in Buenos Aires. - GETTY IMAGES

Tens of thousands of fans, many weeping but eager to honour Diego Maradona, filed past the coffin of Argentina’s most iconic football star on Thursday, some confronting police who tried to maintain order at the country’s presidential mansion.

Fans blew kisses as they passed Maradona’s wooden casket in the main lobby of the presidential Casa Rosada. Some struck their chests with closed fists and shouted, “Let’s go Diego.”

The casket was covered in an Argentine flag and the No. 10 shirt he famously wore the national team. Dozens of other shirts of different football teams tossed in by weeping visitors were scattered on and around the casket.

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Maradona died on Wednesday of a heart attack in a house outside Buenos Aires where he had been recovering from a brain operation on November 3.

Open visitation, started at 6-15 a.m. after a few hours of privacy for family and close friends. The first to bid farewell were his daughters and close family members. His ex-wife Claudia Villafaũe came with Maradona’s daughters Dalma and Gianinna. Later came Verūnica Ojeda, also his ex-wife, with their son Dieguito Fernando.

Jana, who Maradona recognised as his daughter only a few years ago, also attended the funeral.

Ruggeri, Tevez in attendance

Then came former team-mates of the 1986 World Cup-winning squad including Oscar Ruggeri. Other Argentine footballers, such as Boca Juniors’ Carlos Tevez, showed up, too.

Some fans grew impatient as police tried to maintain order, throwing bottles and pieces of metal fencing at police outside the presidential offices in the heart of Buenos Aires. Officers at one point used tear gas to try to control them.

Shortly before noon Argentina President Alberto Fernandez arrived and placed on the casket a shirt of Argentinos Juniors, Maradona’s first club as a professional.

In tears, Fernandez also laid two handkerchiefs of the human rights organisation Madres de Plaza de Mayo, who wore them for years to protest the disappearance of their children under the Argentina’s military dictatorship between 1976 and 1983.

Maradona, an outspoken leftist who had an image of Argentine Revolutionary Che Guevara tattooed on one bicep, was a friend of the Madres and of other human rights organisations.

'Diego is the people'

The lines started forming outside the Casa Rosada only hours after Maradona’s death was confirmed and grew to several blocks. Among those present were the renowned barrabravas fans of Boca Juniors, one of his former clubs.

The first fan to visit was Nahuel de Lima, 30, using crutches to move because of a disability.

A fan cries during the funeral of Maradona. - GETTY IMAGES

 

“He made Argentina be recognised all over the world, who speaks of Maradona also speaks of Argentina,” de Lima said. “Diego is the people.... Today the shirts, the political flags don’t matter. We came to say goodbye to a great that gave us a lot of joy.”

Maradona’s football genius, personal struggles and plain-spoken personality resonated deeply with Argentines.

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Many deeply sympathised with the struggles of a man who rose from poverty to fame and wealth and fell into abuse of drug, drink and food. He remained idolised in the football-mad nation as the “Pibe de Oro” or “Golden Boy.”

Lidia and Estela Villalba cried near the exit of the lobby. Both had a Boca Juniors shirt and an Argentinian flag on their shoulders.

'To victory, always'

“We told him we love him, that he was the greatest,” they said at the same time.

Those waiting for enter the Casa Rosada were mostly wearing masks because of the COVID-19 pandemic, but they struggled to keep social distancing. Social worker Rosa Noemţ Monje, 63, said she and others overseeing health protocols understood the emotion of the moment.

“It is impossible to ask them to distance. We behave respectfully and offer them sanitizer and face masks,” she said. Monje also paid her last tribute to Maradona.

“I told him- to victory always, Diego,” Monje said as she wept.

A huge mural of Maradona’a face was painted on the tiles that cover the Plaza de Mayo, near the Casa Rosada, which was decorated with a giant black ribbon at the entrance.

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