Draped in the Argentine flag and his legendary Number 10 shirt, Diego Maradona’s coffin lay in state in Buenos Aires today as thousands poured onto the streets to celebrate his life while tributes continued to flood in from around the world.
The Argentine Presidency issued the first image on Thursday of the coffin in Casa Rosada, the presidential palace where it will remain until Saturday to allow millions to pay their respects.
Hundreds clashed with police as they tried to force their way into the presidential palace to catch a glimpse of the coffin.
Earlier thousands of fans gathered at spots linked to the player as the nation began three days of mourning for the 60-year-old, who died on Wednesday at his home in Tigre, near the capital Buenos Aires.
A preliminary autopsy has revealed that Maradona died in his sleep after suffering heart failure which caused a pulmonary edema.
Medics are also said to have detected dilated cardiomyopathy, a condition in which the heart muscle becomes weakened and enlarged and cannot pump enough blood to the rest of the body.
In Buenos Aires, fans laid candles and flowers around the stadium of Argentinos Juniors, where arguably football’s greatest ever player began his professional career in 1976. “I am touched. I can’t understand it, I can’t see the reality. Diego will never die, today is the birth of the Maradona myth,” said physician Dante Lopez at the stadium, which carries the player’s name.
Crowds also gathered outside the humble home where Maradona was born and raised in Villa Fiorito, south of the capital, and at the historic La Bombonera stadium of his beloved Boca Juniors, where he played in 1981 before moving to Barcelona, and then again in 1997 before his retirement.
“Diego is a symbol of being Argentinian. He is someone that made us very happy,” said Mariano Jeijer, who went to the Boca Juniors ground in the capital with his wife and baby. In Villa Fiorito, where Maradona learned how to play football on muddy fields, there were no tears, only celebration. “Ole, ole, Diego, Diego,” neighbours sang in front of his former home.
“Diego is the greatest, he is a national pride,” the fans chanted as some began to paint a mural of their idol on a wall. President Alberto Fernandez has declared three days of mourning and offered the presidential palace for the funeral. His spokesman said Maradona’s body would lie in state at the Casa Rosada palace from today until Saturday. “Diego was Argentina in the world. He gave us joy and we will never be able to repay him for so much joy,” he said.
Maradona captained his nation to victory in the 1986 World Cup in Mexico, where he scored his infamous “Hand of God” goal against England as well as one of the greatest goals in the tournament’s history. He had been discharged from hospital a fortnight ago following successful surgery on brain blood clot, and was to be treated for alcohol dependency.
In the Italian city of Naples, where he played for seven years, crowds chanted “there’s only one Maradona” in the streets. The Vatican said Pope Francis, who met Maradona several times, thought of him with affection and was “remembering him in his prayers”.