BUENOS AIRES (AP) – Tens of thousands of fans, many crying but keen to honor Diego Maradona, laid before the coffin of Argentina’s most iconic football star on Thursday.
Fans kissed as they walked past Maradona’s wooden coffin in the main lobby of the presidential Casa Rosada, some punching their chests with closed fists and shouting, “Let’s go Diego”.
It was the kind of honor usually bestowed on heads of state, but few heads of state have ever aroused such loyalty or passion.
On the street, the line to see Maradona’s coffin was over 20 blocks, and unrest erupted at least twice as fans eager to see the coffin clashed with security forces in front of the presidential palace, interrupting the flow of visitors.
The coffin was covered with an Argentinian flag and the No.10 jersey he wore for the national team. Dozens of other jerseys from different football teams thrown by crying visitors were strewn on and around the coffin.
Maradona died of a heart attack on Wednesday at a house outside Buenos Aires where he was recovering from brain surgery on November 3.
Self-guided tour, started at 6:15 am after a few hours of privacy for family and close friends. The first to say goodbye were his daughters and close family members. His ex-wife Claudia Villafañe came with Maradona’s daughters, Dalma and Gianinna. Later came Verónica Ojeda, also his ex-wife, with their son Dieguito Fernando.
Jana, who Maradona recognized as her daughter only a few years ago, also attended the funeral.
Then came former teammates of the 1986 World Cup winning team, including Oscar Ruggeri. Other Argentinian footballers, like Carlos Tévez of Boca Juniors, also showed up.
Early in the morning, some fans grew impatient as police attempted to maintain order, throwing bottles and pieces of metal fencing at police outside presidential offices in the heart of Buenos Aires. At one point, officers used tear gas to try and control them.
Clashes erupted again in the early afternoon when police fired rubber bullets at fans trying to clear their way.
Argentine President Alberto Fernández had appeared at midday and placed a shirt of Argentinos Juniors, Maradona’s first club as a professional, on the coffin.
In tears, Fernández also laid down two handkerchiefs from the human rights organization Madres de Plaza de Mayo, which wore them for years to protest the disappearance of their children under Argentina’s military dictatorship between 1976 and 1983.
Maradona, an outspoken leftist who had an image of Argentinian revolutionary Che Guevara tattooed on one bicep, was a friend of the Madres and other human rights organizations.
The lines began to form outside the Casa Rosada just hours after the confirmation of Maradona’s death and reached several blocks. Among those in attendance were renowned barrabravas fans from Boca Juniors, one of its former clubs.
The first fan to visit was Nahuel de Lima, 30, using crutches to get around due to a disability.
“He made Argentina recognized around the world, who speaks of Maradona also speaks of Argentina,” de Lima told The Associated Press. “Diego is the people … Today, shirts, political flags don’t matter. We came to say goodbye to a grown-up who gave us a lot of joy.
Maradona’s football genius, personal struggles and clear personality resonated deeply with Argentines.
He led an oppressed team to 1986 World Cup glory, winning the title after scoring two stunning semi-final goals against England, thrilling a country that felt humbled by its loss to the British in the recent Falklands War and still recovering. of brutal military dictatorship.
Many have deeply sympathized with the struggles of a man who rose from poverty to fame and wealth and fell into the abuse of drugs, drink, and food. He has remained idolized in the football mad nation as “Pibe de Oro” or “Golden Boy”.
Lidia and Estela Villalba cried near the hall exit. Both had a Boca Juniors jersey and an Argentinian flag on their shoulders.
“We told him that we love him, that he is the greatest,” they said at the same time.
Those waiting to enter Casa Rosada were mostly wearing masks due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but struggled to keep their social distances.
Social worker Rosa Noemí Monje, 63, said she and others in charge of health protocols understood the emotion of the moment.
“It is impossible to ask them to go away. We behave with respect and provide them with disinfectant and face masks, ”she said. Monje also paid her final tribute to Maradona.
“I told him: always win, Diego,” said Monje, crying.
A huge mural of Maradona’a’s face was painted on the tiles that cover Plaza de Mayo, near Casa Rosada, which was decorated with a giant black ribbon at the entrance.
____ AP author Mauricio Savarese contributed to this report from Sao Paulo, Brazil.