Football: Argentinians file in for Diego Maradona’s wake at Buenos Aires' presidential palace

Fans queueing to enter the presidential palace in Buenos Aires for the wake of football legend Diego Maradona on Nov 26, 2020. PHOTO: AFP
Fans fight to get a better position in line to enter the presidential palace in Buenos Aires to pay tribute to Diego Maradona on Nov 26, 2020. PHOTO: AFP
Fans clash with police as they queue to enter the presidential palace in Buenos Aires to pay tribute to Diego Maradona on Nov 26, 2020. PHOTO: AFP
Fans leaving the presidential palace in Buenos Aires after paying tribute to Diego Maradona on Nov 26, 2020. PHOTO: AFP
Fans queueing to enter the presidential palace in Buenos Aires for the wake of football legend Diego Maradona on Nov 26, 2020. PHOTO: EPA-EFE
Fans gather outside the presidential palace in Buenos Aires, ahead of the wake of football legend Diego Maradona, on Nov 25, 2020. PHOTO: REUTERS
The coffin holding the body of Diego Maradona arrives at the Casa Rosada presidential palace in Buenos Aires on Nov 26, 2020. PHOTO: REUTERS

BUENOS AIRES (AFP) - Hundreds of people on Thursday (Nov 26) began filing in to see the coffin of Diego Maradona in Buenos Aires' presidential palace at the start of a period of lying in state, following the death of the Argentinian football legend aged 60 on Wednesday.

Images from sports channels TyC and ESPN earlier showed them lining up to pay their respects to Maradona, who died while recovering from a brain operation.

At a slow pace, people passed in front of the coffin that was draped with the Argentina flag and his No. 10 jersey.

Scuffles briefly broke out as crowds jostled as they queued to enter and police had to hold people back.

Maradona's family and closest friends came at dawn before the start of the public wake.

A spokesman for the legend said he will be buried later on Thursday on the outskirts of the capital. Maradona will be laid to rest in the Jardin de Paz cemetery, where his parents were also buried, Sebastian Sanchi told AFP.

Tens of thousands of people spent the night in a vigil in the Plaza de Mayo, singing songs in tribute to Maradona, who led Argentina to the World Cup in 1986.

Thousands more, many in tears and wearing the No. 10 Argentina jersey, gathered in streets and at stadiums around Buenos Aires in spontaneous celebration of the player and manager's riotous life.

The outrageously skilful Maradona, forever remembered for his "Hand of God" goal against England in the 1986 World Cup quarter-finals, died of a heart attack while recovering from surgery to remove a blood clot on his brain, a member of his entourage told AFP.

Family members were summoned to his home north of Buenos Aires before his death was announced, triggering an outpouring of grief across the country and worldwide.

Argentina's President Alberto Fernandez announced three days of national mourning, and players bowed their heads in a minute's silence before Wednesday's Champions League games in Europe.

Lionel Messi, Argentina's modern-day superstar, led the tributes as he said: "He has left us but he will never leave us because Diego is eternal." Brazilian legend Pele, 80, constantly compared with Maradona in the debate over football's greatest player, called him a "dear friend" and said he hoped they would "play together in the sky" one day.

Public prosecutor John Broyard said Maradona's death has "only natural characteristics" though an autopsy was carried out. His body will lie in state in the presidential palace during the national mourning.

Despite major coronavirus problems in Argentina, with more than 1.3 million cases and a death toll topping 37,000, fans gathered at landmarks including Buenos Aires' Obelisk monument and Argentinos Juniors' Diego Armando Maradona Stadium, where he started his career.

'Hand of God'

Maradona, born in Lanus, just south of Buenos Aires, on Oct 30, 1960, also played for Boca Juniors, Barcelona and Napoli in a career of divine talent marked by wild highs and lows.

In probably his most famous moment, he leapt and used his fist to score past England's Peter Shilton in Mexico, memorably describing the goal as "a little with the head of Maradona and a little with the hand of God".

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Minutes later he weaved through six English defenders from the halfway line to score an unforgettable solo second which was later honoured as Fifa's "Goal of the century".

The two contrasting goals perfectly encapsulated the mixture of brilliant skill and often outlandish behaviour that ran through his life.

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Maradona's highs were crowned by his performances at that World Cup, when he captained Argentina to glory.

After dismissing England, he scored twice in the semi-final against Belgium, slaloming past four defenders for his second, and set up the 86th-minute winner in the final against West Germany.

It was to prove the highlight for Maradona, who inspired Argentina to the 1990 final only for West Germany to take their revenge. In Brazil in 1994 - after an infamous, eye-bulging goal celebration against Greece - he failed a drug test and was sent home in disgrace.

Gary Lineker, who was in the beaten England team in 1986, said Maradona was "arguably the greatest of all time", adding: "After a blessed but troubled life, hopefully he'll finally find some comfort in the hands of God. #RipDiego."

Excesses with drugs and alcohol had long taken their toll on Maradona's health. He was admitted to hospital three times in the last 20 years for serious health issues due to his addictions.

Diego Maradona with his doctor Leopoldo Luque after undergoing surgery to remove a blood clot on his brain, in Buenos Aires on Nov 11, 2020. PHOTO: AFP/DIEGO MARADONA PRESS OFFICE

'Ciao Diego'

Maradona grew up in poverty in Buenos Aires but his extraordinary talent was clear from a young age at Argentinos Juniors and Boca.

He moved to Barcelona but was singled out for rough treatment by opposing defenders and soon fell out of love with the Spanish club.

It was in Naples where Maradona would enchant an entire city by leading the then unfashionable Napoli to their only two Italian league titles in 1987 and 1990, befriending a mafia family along the way.

"Always in our hearts. Ciao Diego," Napoli tweeted, while the club's president and Naples' mayor both called for the Stadio San Paolo to be renamed after Maradona.

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In recent years, Maradona, reduced to hobbling by the ravages of his career and lifestyle, had coached in the United Arab Emirates, Mexico and Argentina without ever hitting the heights of his playing days.

He married his long-time girlfriend Claudia Villafane in 1984. They had two daughters, Dalma and Gianinna, but the relationship was punctuated by Maradona's extra-marital affairs and they divorced in 2004.

He also had a son, Diego Junior, born in Naples in 1986, although he only acknowledged paternity in 2004.

In 2000, Fifa ran an online Player of the Century poll. Maradona gained 54 per cent of the vote and Pele was second with 18 per cent. Fifa declared them joint winners.

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