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ARGENTINA | 28-11-2020 08:56

Nation bids chaotic final farewell to its favourite son

Huge crowds bade a grief-filled farewell to Diego Armando Maradona on Thursday, before the legendary footballer was buried on the outskirts of Buenos Aires after a chaotic public wake.

Huge crowds bade a grief-filled farewell to the nation’s favourite son, Diego Armando Maradona, on Thursday before the football legend was buried on the outskirts of Buenos Aires after a chaotic public wake.

The 1986 World Cup winner, widely regarded as one of the greatest players in history, was laid to rest on Thursday after a ceremony attended by family and close friends in the Jardín Bella Vista cemetery. 

Maradona, who had battled cocaine addiction for decades, died on Wednesday aged 60, sparking mourning around the world. 

"I thought Diego was immortal, I thought he would never die on us. I feel a terrible sadness for a person who made us so, so happy," said 63-year-old bus driver Antonio Ávila outside the cemetery.

The peaceful farewell contrasted sharply with the raucous scenes of his send-off in central Buenos Aires that seemed somehow in keeping with the player's tumultuous life.

Riot police fired tear gas and rubber bullets in clashes with stone-throwing fans that briefly threatened to mar the day of mourning.

The national government and Buenos Aires City governments later clashed over what looked to have been an aggressive response from the security forces. 

Meanwhile, in Naples, where Maradona was adored for leading Napoli to two Italian titles and putting one over their richer northern rivals, fans held an all-day wake and players took to the pitch for a match wearing his number 10 shirt.

Thousands bid farewell

Tens of thousands of people had queued from early morning in the capital to file past Maradona's coffin, draped in the Argentine flag, at the Casa Rosada.

As the day wore on, people queueing outside the Casa Rosada grew increasingly impatient, especially after it looked as if hundreds who were still waiting to pay tribute to their idol would not make it inside before the 4pm cut-off point.

Incredibly, some fans managed to take over an internal courtyard of the presidential palace, where they chanted songs and slogans, forcing officials to move Maradona's coffin to another room as a security precaution, accompanied by his family.

Eventually officials decided enough was enough and retracted an order to extend visiting times until 7pm. Moments later, the hearse bearing Maradona's coffin rolled through the gates of the presidency building and into the streets of Buenos Aires, where it was immediately swamped by emotional, and aggressive, well-wishers.

Fans crowded onto roadsides and highway bridges as the funeral cortege sped towards the western outskirts, surrounded by police outriders with sirens blaring and pursued by TV crews.

Thankfully, upon arrival at the cemetery, things began to calm and the family was given the space – if not the privacy – to say a final farewell to their loved on. As the funeral service commenced, drones from major news organisations flew ahead, capturing the moment and beaming it to a nation. Even in death, Maradona was not to be left alone.

‘Best in the world’

The outrageously skillful Maradona, widely remembered for his "Hand of God" goal against England in the 1986 World Cup quarter-finals, died of a heart attack on Wednesday while recovering from brain surgery.

"He was the best in the world, we're going to miss him and his death broke our souls," said Diego Armando Cabral, a 29-year-old bricklayer in Buenos Aires who was named after the footballer.

Brazilian legend Pelé, 80, a rival for the ‘GOAT’ (“Greatest of All Time”) title, said he hoped they would one day "play together in the sky."

Lionel Messi, Argentina's modern-day superstar, described Maradona as "eternal," adding that his spirit would never die.

On Friday, the tributes were still coming in. Tottenham Hotspur manager Jose Mourinho, a former boss of Chelsea, Real Madrid. Inter Milan and Manchester United, recounting how Maradona would call him to offer support after defeats.

"He had a big, big, big, big heart," Mourinho told BT Sport. "That's the guy I miss, because his football we can find every time we miss him, if we Google we will find it. But Diego, no."

Some, however, may not be able to face the news. Carlos Bilardo, the coach of Argentina's 1986 World Cup-winning team who is in poor health, is still unaware, because of his family's wish not to upset him.

"I cannot tell him that Diego is dead," Carlos's brother Jorge Bilardo told Radio Provincia, because he had a "father-son" relationship with Maradona. 

Bilardo, 82, has repeatedly said during interviews that Diego was "the son that [he had] not had." 

– TIMES/AFP [reporting by María Lorente)


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