Thousands of fans, many crying but eager to honor Diego Maradona, he visited the coffin of Argentina’s most iconic soccer star on Thursday.
Fans kissed as they passed Maradona’s wooden casket in the main lobby of President Casa Rosada, with some clenching their chests and shouting “Let’s go Diego.”
It was the kind of honor usually given to heads of state, but some heads of state have never aroused such devotion or passion.
On the street, the line to see Maradona’s casket was more than 20 blocks long, and fans eager to see a scuffle with security forces in front of the presidential palace broke up at least twice, blocking the flow of visitors.
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The casket was covered with the Argentine flag and he famously wore the 10th shirt to the national team. Dozens of shirts from different soccer teams, weeping visitors were scattered in and around the space.
Maradona died Wednesday of a heart attack in a building outside Bunias Ares where he recovered from AA brain surgery in Nov.
The open visit began at 6:15 a.m. after several hours of privacy for family and close friends. The first to bid farewell were his daughters and close family members. His ex-wife Claudia Villaf came with Maradona’s daughters Dalma and Gianna. Later his ex-wife Vernica Ojeda also came with his son Diegoito Fernando.
Jana, who recognized Maradona as his daughter just a few years ago, also attended the funeral.
The 1986 World Cup winning team was followed by players from the team, including former Oscar Ruggery. Other Argentine footballers, such as Carlos Tevez of Boca Juniors, also showed up.
Early in the morning some fans were swept away as police threw bottles and pieces of metal fencing at police outside the presidential office in the center of Buenos Aires. At one point officers used tear gas to control it.
The clashes erupted again in the early hours of the morning, as police fired rubber bullets at fans trying to move on.
Argentine President Alberto Fernandez was present at lunch and put on the shirt of Maradona’s first club Argentinos Juniors as a professional.
In tears, Fernandez also placed two handkerchiefs from the human rights organization Madres de Plaza de Mayo, which he wore for years in protest of the disappearance of his children under Argentina’s military dictatorship between 1976 and 1983.
Maradona, an outspoken leftist who had the image of Argentine revolutionary Che Guevara tattooed on a biceps, was a friend of Madras and other human rights groups.
Within hours of Maradona’s death being confirmed, lines began to form outside Casa Rosada and grew into several blocks. Among those in attendance were the famous barbarians of Boca Juniors, one of his former clubs.
The first fan to visit was 30-year-old Nahuel de Lima, using a disability crutch.
“He recognized Argentina all over the world. He who speaks of Maradona also speaks of Argentina,” de Lima told the Associated Press. “Diego is the people …. Today the shirt, the political flag doesn’t matter. We came to say goodbye to a great man who gave us great joy.”
Maradona’s soccer talent, personal struggles and plain-spoken personality resonated with the Argentines.
He raised the pride of the Underdog team in the 1986 World Cup, winning the title after scoring two surprise goals in the semi-final match against England.
Many sympathize with the struggles of a man who has risen from poverty to fame and fortune and has fallen into the abuse of drugs, drinks and food. He remained pagan in the soccer-mad nation as “Pebe de Oro” or “Golden Boy”.
Libya and Estella Villallaba cried as they exited the lobby. Both had Boca Juniors shirts and the Argentine flag on their shoulders.
“We told him we loved him, that he was great,” they said at the same time.
Those waiting to enter Casa Rosada were mostly wearing masks due to the COVID-19 epidemic, but they struggled to maintain social distance.
Social worker Rosa Noim Monje said she and others observing health protocols understood the spirit of the moment.
“It is impossible to ask them the distance. We treat them with respect and offer them sanitizers and face masks, ”he said. Monje also paid a final tribute to Mara Radona.
“I told him: always for victory, Diego,” Monje cried.
Near Casa Rosada, a huge mural of Maradona’s face was painted on the tiles marking the Plaza de Mayo, adorned with a huge black ribbon at the entrance.