Tens of thousands bid farewell to Diego Maradona in Argentina
Tens of thousands of fans, many weeping but eager to honor Diego Maradona, filed past the coffin of Argentina’s most iconic soccer star on Thursday, some confronting police who tried to maintain order at the country’s presidential mansion.
Fans blew kisses as they passed Maradona’s wooden casket in the main lobby of the presidential Casa Rosada. Some struck their chests with closed fists, shouting, “Let’s go Diego.”
The casket was covered in an Argentine flag and the No. 10 shirt Maradona famously wore for the national team. Dozens of other shirts of different soccer teams tossed in by weeping visitors were scattered on and around the casket.
The impulsiveness and childishness that made Diego Maradona wreak havoc on the field also made him the most dominant and joyous player of his generation, perhaps ever, writes columnist Dylan Hernández.
Open visitation began at 6:15 a.m. after a few hours of privacy for family and close friends. The first to bid farewell 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 Maradona, whom the soccer legend recognized 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 Tévez, showed up, too.
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. Officers at one point used tear gas to try to control them.
Shortly before noon Argentine President Alberto Fernández arrived and placed on the casket a shirt of Argentinos Juniors, Maradona’s first club as a professional.
In tears, Fernández also laid two handkerchiefs of the human rights organization Madres de Plaza de Mayo, who 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 Argentine revolutionary Che Guevara tattooed on one bicep, was a friend of the Madres and of other human rights organizations.
The lines started forming outside Casa Rosada only hours after Maradona’s death was confirmed and grew to several blocks.
The first fan to visit was Nahuel de Lima, 30, using crutches to move because of a disability.
“He made Argentina be recognized all over the world, who speaks of Maradona also speaks of Argentina,” De Lima told the Associated Press. “Diego is the people.... Today the shirts, the political flags don’t matter. We came to say goodbye to a great that gave us a lot of joy.”
Lidia and Estela Villalba cried near the exit of the lobby. Each had a Boca Juniors shirt and an Argentine flag on their shoulders.
“We told him we love him, that he was the greatest,” they said.
Those waiting to enter Casa Rosada were mostly wearing masks because of the COVID-19 pandemic, but they struggled to maintain social distance.
Social worker Rosa Noemí Monje, 63, said she and others overseeing health protocols understood the emotion of the moment.
“It is impossible to ask them to distance. We behave respectfully and offer them sanitizer and face masks,” she said. Monje also paid her last tribute to Maradona.
“I told him: To victory always, Diego,” Monje said as she wept.
A huge mural of Maradona’s face was painted on the tiles covering the Plaza de Mayo, near Casa Rosada, which was decorated with a giant black ribbon at the entrance.