BUENOS AIRES • On the first weekend of sporting action since the death of Diego Maradona, sports, leagues and teams round the world paid tribute to the Argentinian football legend on Saturday.
Those who knew or had played with or against the 1986 World Cup winner, who died of a heart attack aged 60 on Wednesday, added poignant emotion to the commemorations often held in stadiums without fans.
It was particularly stirring in Argentina as the Primera Division staged its first matches, especially for Gimnasia y Esgrima, the club coached by Maradona.
His backroom staff resigned en masse the day before and tears flowed among Gimnasia’s players during a two-minute tribute ahead of their away clash with Velez Sarsfield.
All players and referees involved in Saturday’s five fixtures walked onto their respective pitches wearing Argentina jerseys with a Maradona silhouette on the front, and his iconic No. 10 and Gracias Diego emblazoned on the back.
Before the opening whistle, there was a minute of applause as the song La Mano De Dios or The Hand Of God, was played along with Victor Hugo Morales’ famous commentary of his “Goal of the Century” against England in 1986.
Gimnasia won 1-0 to move to the top of the Group F standings and the team were later filmed chanting his name in the dressing room.
“We want to dedicate this to our father, because he was a father to us. He called us whenever we needed something and we’re happy to give him this victory,” teary-eyed Gimnasia midfielder Victor Ayala told TyC Sports.
There was drama off the field too as reports emerged that his doctor is being investigated for involuntary manslaughter.
The tributes followed similar gestures in other top leagues across South America and Europe on Saturday. In Spain, former Argentina teammate Diego Simeone clapped during the minute’s silence before his Atletico Madrid beat Valencia 1-0 in La Liga, while in the Premier League, Everton manager Carlo Ancelotti visibly teared up during the minute’s applause.
The Italian, who had faced Maradona during his Serie A playing days, said: He was my opponent and he became my friend.”
In Italy, where the players all wore black armbands, an image of Maradona appeared during the one minute of silence before kick-off. When his image appeared again on stadium screens in the 10th minute, all games were temporarily halted as players stood and clapped for 60 seconds.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS, XINHUA