BUENOS AIRES, November 27
Argentina’s Diego Maradona, one of the world’s greatest ever soccer players, was set to be laid to rest on Thursday amid a global outpouring of grief from the streets of Buenos Aires to Naples in Italy. The death of Maradona at the age of 60 on Wednesday, following a heart attack, has sparked both mourning and celebrations of a true sporting star, who was a genius on the soccer field but lived a life marred by struggles with addiction.
The World Cup winner was taken by hearse late Thursday afternoon to the Bella Vista cemetery on the outskirts of Buenos Aires — where his parents are also interred — for an small private ceremony of his family and close friends.
The burial follows a day of high emotion that saw clashes between police and fans near the presidential palace in central Buenos Aires where Maradona lay in state in a closed casket for people to say their final farewells.
Thousands of people had surrounded the pink-hued Casa Rosada and there was a febrile atmosphere more akin to a rowdy soccer game than a formal wake, with fans clambering up the palace gates to get as close as possible to their hero. The tensions eased after Maradona’s body was transferred by hearse to the cemetery, surrounded by a huge procession of police and others on motorbikes. Thousands of Argentines lined the roads as it passed on the hour-long journey to Bella Vista.
In Italy, crowds tied hundreds of blue and white scarfs to the railings outside his former club Napoli, while in France, sports paper L’Equipe’s front page blared out: “God is dead”.
In Argentina, three days of national mourning were called for the player who led the country to a 1986 World Cup win and is revered with cult-like status. Tens of thousands took to the streets, not all wearing masks, despite fears over the Covid-19 pandemic. Some left flowers and messages at his childhood home.
During the day, Maradona’s body lay in state in a wooden coffin at the Casa Rosada presidential palace on the central Plaza de Mayo. It was covered with the blue and white national flag and an Argentina soccer jersey with the number 10 that had been part of his nickname “D10S” – a play on “dios”, the Spanish word for God.
Starting at dawn on Thursday, thousands of fans had formed a snaking line estimated at over a mile (1.6 km) long through the streets of Buenos Aires near the plaza, after a night of mourning and reminiscing. Fans who got inside the palace — many missed out — threw soccer shirts, flowers and other items towards the casket. “He was someone who touched the sky with his hands but never took his feet off the ground,” President Alberto Fernandez said. — Reuters