News People Thousands file past Maradona’s coffin as Argentina grieves
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Thousands file past Maradona’s coffin as Argentina grieves

diego maradona argentina
Crowds of Argentines queue outside the government palace to see the body of Diego Maradona. Photo: Getty
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Tens of thousands of fans filed past the coffin of Diego Maradona on Thursday in ceremonies that mixed head-of-state-like honours with the chaos of a rowdy stadium.

Fans singing soccer anthems, some draped in the Argentinian flag, formed a line more than 20 blocks long stretching from the Plaza de Mayo where Argentines gathered to celebrate the Maradona-led triumph in the 1986 World Cup.

But with the time for viewing the coffin at the nation’s presidential palace drawing short, police moved to cut off the back end of the crowd. That enraged fans, who hurled rocks and other objects at police, who responded with rubber bullets.

While the scenario was that of a state funeral, a casket laid out in the presidential palace, the atmosphere often was that of a soccer stadium – chanting, singing, pushing and the occasional whiff of alcohol.

Fans wept and blew kisses as they passed Maradona’s wooden casket, some striking their chests with closed fists and shouting, “Let’s go Diego”.

It was draped with the national flag and shirts bearing his famed No.10 from the Argentine team and the club side Boca Juniors. Other jerseys had been tossed around it by passing admirers.

Maradona died on Wednesday (local time) of a heart attack in a house outside Buenos Aires, where he had been recovering from a brain operation on November 3.

Open visitation began after a few hours of privacy for family and close friends.

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Tributes left to Maradona outside the Argentinos Juniors’ Stadium. Photo: Getty

The first to bid farewell were his daughters and close family members. His ex-wife Claudia Villafane came with Maradona’s daughters Dalma and Gianinna. Later came Veronica Ojeda, also his ex-wife, with their son Dieguito Fernando.

Jana, who Maradona recognised as his daughter only a few years ago, also attended the funeral.

Then came former teammates of the 1986 World Cup-winning squad including Oscar Ruggeri. Other Argentine footballers, such as Boca Juniors’ Carlos Tevez, also attended.

Early in the morning, some fans grew impatient as police tried to maintain order, throwing bottles and pieces of metal fencing at police outside the presidential offices in the heart of Buenos Aires. At one point, officers used tear gas to try to control them.

Argentina President Alberto Fernandez appeared at midday and placed on the casket a shirt of Argentinos Juniors, where Maradona started his career in 1976.

In tears, Mr Fernandez also laid two handkerchiefs of the human rights organisation Mother of the Plaza de Mayo, who wore them for years to protest the disappearance of their children under the Argentina’s military dictatorship between 1976 and 1983.

Maradona, an outspoken leftist who had an image of Argentine Revolutionary Che Guevara tattooed on one bicep, was a friend of the Madres and of other human rights organisations.

The lines started forming outside the Casa Rosada only hours after Maradona’s death was confirmed and grew to several blocks.

A huge mural of Maradona’a face was painted on the tiles that cover the Plaza de Mayo, near the Casa Rosada, which was decorated with a giant black ribbon at the entrance.

Maradona’s soccer genius, personal struggles and plain-spoken personality resonated deeply with Argentines.

He led an underdog team to glory in the 1986 World Cup, winning the title after scoring two astonishing goals in a semifinal against England.

Many Argentines deeply sympathised with the struggles of a man who rose from poverty to fame and wealth and fell into abuse of drug, drink and food. He remained idolised in the soccer-mad nation as the “pibe de oro” or “golden boy”.

In Italy, hundreds of blue and white scarfs were tied to railings outside his former club Napoli while fans laid out flowers, children’s pictures, candles and even a bottle of wine in a rapidly expanding, makeshift shrine.