“The biggest”: thousands of Argentines say goodbye to Maradona Latin America

Buenos Aires, Argentina – When Luciano Perez and his son Dante set out for the Presidential Palace of Argentina, where the coffin of Diego Maradona was visible, he was comforted by the crowd gathered along Avenida de Mayo.

He was delighted to see tens of thousands of people show up to honor his football icon, with whom he grew up and to whom he owes his love of the game.

But as he entered the Casa Rosada building and passed the closed coffin, cloaking the Argentine flag and the jerseys worn by El Diego, his emotions darkened.

“I didn’t meet him and I didn’t see him, now in a coffin, it was just awful,” Perez, 36, said.

Maradona’s coffin was covered with a national flag and football jerseys [Presidency of Argentina via EPA]

Argentina did not expect that. Maradona’s sudden loss feels too hard to process, too raw to put into words this football-manic nation.

The genius on the field, the player who transported the national team high at the 1986 World Cup, has become synonymous with Maradona’s name in his homeland.

Now the country is gripped by fierce grief, torn apart by the song and dance it has maintained for its dazzling goals. Fans had to celebrate El Diego, it was like a balm for pain.

Tens of thousands of people gathered along Avenida de Mayo [Juan Mabromata/AFP]

Some of the heightened emotions poured into a confrontation with police as some fans tried to break into the president’s palace in the early morning hours. Others tried to cross the line that police had cut off as the end of visiting hours approached.

Following a heart attack, Maradona died Wednesday. His body was taken to the Casa Rosada by car in the evenings when thousands sought the company of mourners in the obelisk in Buenos Aires. Many of them moved to La Casa Rosada to stand up for the opportunity to spend a few seconds near their idol.

About a million people are expected to have paid their last respects at the official awakening. As the approach approached at the initial 16:00 (GMT 19:00), police shut down the line. Television networks reported that fans rushed past them, throwing rocks while police fired rubber bullets. The deadline was extended to 7 pm (GMT 22:00).

Local media reported that the coffin was traveling to the cemetery via 9 de Julio Street, the iconic boulevard of Buenos Aires, so that the crowd lined up could take one last look at his idol.

Maradona is a colorful story [Natalie Alcoba/Al Jazeera]

“There is no jersey today. There is no political party today. This has been Diego all his life. He united the Argentines. ”Said Nahuel De Lima, 30, who was the first man to follow him and who came from Villa Fiorito, the same impoverished district of Buenos Aires where Maradona grew up.

Close behind him was Dolores Morales, who was clutching the cover of an old magazine from the World Cup winning era.

“Sometimes you don’t know how to describe things, but he’s the greatest, he’s a god.” And there will be a day for Maradona, remember that, ”Morales said.

“Maradona represents the Argentine woman,” Martin Rabassano said. “Were there any contradictions? Of course, like the whole world. He got past the football. Much more than a ball. So he respects my respect and his family respects me. I had to be here.

Like Perez, with his son, Dante. His love of football and Maradona remained with him all his life.

“He was my childhood. My adolescence. The reason I played football. Said Perez, a Lanus from the suburbs of Buenos Aires. “His magnetism was different. A guy from below came who sympathizes with the worker, the non-worker, the rich man, no one. He is authentic. This is the most important. “