World Cup: Argentina greats pay tribute to Maradona on anniversary of his death

Bulgarian former football star Hristo Stoichkov (second from right) and Argentinian former World Cup winners from left) Mario Kempes, Ubaldo Fillol, Nery Pumpido and Jorge Valdano chat during a tribute ceremony to Diego Maradona at the Conmebol fan zone on Nov 25, 2022. PHOTO: AFP

DOHA – Argentinian football greats on Friday set off a day of World Cup tributes to the “immortal” Diego Maradona on the second anniversary of his death.

Fans unfurled Maradona flags on Doha’s seafront and gathered at a South American confederation (Conmebol) ceremony alongside former players including Argentina World Cup winners Mario Kempes and Alberto Tarantini.

Maradona died of a heart attack on Nov 25, 2020 at the age of 60, setting off a wave of deep mourning across the football world.

He played in four Finals, lifting the trophy in 1986 when he scored his “Hand of God” goal against England but he was kicked out of the 1994 tournament after failing a drug test.

“His death is something Argentina has never got over,” said Daniel Luque, who unfurled a flag with Maradona’s portrait at the World Cup countdown clock early on Friday.

“He was a player and a phenomenon. His troubles just made him even more a man of the people. If he had stood for president, he would have won,” added the 47-year-old.

Some fans shouted “Viva Diego” as Conmebol president Alejandro Dominguez and Fifa chief Gianni Infantino paid their tributes at the confederation’s fan zone.

Both called Maradona “immortal” and the Fifa boss said he would like a ceremony for the player at every World Cup.

“I am Italian and an Inter fanatic, so I am neither Argentinian nor from Napoli and Diego made Inter cry many times, Italy too, but we love him,” said Infantino.

“Hopefully God is playing with him,” said Tarantini, a defender in the side who won the 1978 World Cup at home and who played with Maradona in the 1982 team.

“We all keep remembering him on the pitch, but off the pitch he was better,” the 66-year-old told the ceremony.

People pose for photos next to a statue depicting to late Argentine football star Diego Maradona on the second anniversary of his death at “Tree of dreams” in the Conmebol fan zone on Friday. PHOTO: AFP

Kempes, an attacking midfielder in the 1978 side, described Maradona as an “excellent” character who “destabilised you in all senses”.

“If you knew him, you thought he would do one thing, but he would do completely the opposite – that is genius,” the 68-year-old told reporters.

Maradona fans planned an event at a fan zone devoted to the legend at Doha’s international airport later on Friday. AFP

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