BUENOS AIRES: Football legend Diego Maradona has been buried in a private ceremony after a day of emotional scenes in the Argentine capital Buenos Aires.
Only around two dozen relatives and close friends attended the final ceremony. Earlier huge crowds turned out to pay their respects, weeping and praying as they filed past his coffin. Maradona died of a heart attack on Wednesday aged 60, two weeks after he left hospital after undergoing brain surgery.
His death triggered mourning around the world but it was felt more fiercely in a country that saw him as a national hero. Maradona’s coffin draped in Argentina’s national flag and football shirt, bearing his trademark number 10 on the back was on public display at the presidential palace on Thursday.
By mid-afternoon queues stretched back for more than a kilometre and police clashed with mourners as they tried to close off the palace in anticipation of the funeral. There were reports of tear gas and rubber bullets being used as officers in riot gear struggled to hold back the crowd.
Authorities were eventually forced to stop public viewing of the coffin. The motorised funeral cortege drove his body to the Bella Vista cemetery on the outskirts of the city, where he was buried next to the graves of his parents.
Maradona was widely remembered for his “Hand of God” goal against England in the 1986 World Cup quarter-finals. His career and life were sometimes tainted by a loose interpretation of the rules of the game and a crippling addiction to cocaine and alcohol.
Lionel Messi, Argentina’s modern-day superstar, led the tributes as he said: “He has left us but he will never leave us because Diego is eternal.” Brazilian legend Pele constantly compared with Maradona in the debate over football’s greatest player, said he hoped they would one day “play together in the sky.”
Maradona was born in Lanus, just south of Buenos Aires, on October 30, 1960. He also played for Argentine clubs Argentinos Juniors and Boca Juniors, as well as Spanish giants Barcelona before becoming a hero in the southern Italian city of Naples.
In his most infamous match, he leapt and used his fist to score past England goalkeeper Peter Shilton in the 1986 World Cup quarter-finals in Mexico City, unseen by the referee. Maradona memorably described the goal as “a little with the head of Maradona and a little with the hand of God.”
Nevertheless, just minutes after that goal, the diminutive Maradona weaved through six English defenders from the halfway line to score an unforgettable solo second that has been honored as FIFA’s “Goal of the Century.”
The two contrasting goals perfectly encapsulated the mixture of brilliant skill and outlandish behaviour throughout Maradona’s life. His career was crowned by his performances at that World Cup when he captained Argentina to glory.
Maradona also inspired Argentina to 1990 final, only for West Germany to take their revenge. At the 1994 World Cup, he failed a doping test and was sent home from the United States in disgrace.
Maradona’s lifestyle took a heavy toll on his health. He was hospitalised three times in the last 20 years for serious health issues. Maradona married his long-time girlfriend Claudia Villafane in 1984. They had two daughters, Dalma and Gianinna, and divorced in 2004. He also had a son, Diego Junior, born in Naples in 1986, although he only acknowledged paternity in 2004.