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”.
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.
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.
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.