Argentina fans pray for Maradona magic amid tributes

A fan stands next to paintings of Diego Maradona, painted by Argentinean artist Claudia Perez, on the second death anniversary of Argentina legend a fan zone devoted to the Argentine at Doha's international airport. PHOTO: AFP

Argentine football greats and thousands of World Cup fans paid tributes Friday to Diego Maradona on the second anniversary of the football icon's death.

Many choked the narrow alleys of Doha's main market on the eve of Argentina's must-win clash against Mexico, waving Maradona flags and chanting his name along with that of current number 10 Lionel Messi. Police barricaded entrances into Souq Waqif because of the numbers.

Argentina has barely recovered from Maradona's death from a heart attack on November 25, 2020 at the age of 60 after years of drug and alcohol troubles.

The Argentine played in four World Cups, lifting the trophy in 1986 when he scored his "Hand of God" goal against England. He was kicked out of the 1994 tournament after failing a drug test.

Former teammates from that 1986 team -- Claudio Ruggeri, Nery Pumpido, Jorge Burruchaga, Ricardo Giusti, Sergio Batista, Claudio Borghi, Carlos Tapia, Jorge Valdano and Hector Enrique -- attended a tribute at a South American confederation (CONMEBOL) fan zone in Doha.

They were joined by members of the 1978 winning team -- Ubaldo Fillol, Mario Kempes, Daniel Bertoni, Ricardo Villa, Omar Larrosa and Alberto Tarantini.

"Like the great masters of painting, he made sketches until completing his most wonderful work against England," said Valdano, recalling Maradona's superb second goal against England in the 1986 quarter-final.


Some fans shouted "Viva Diego" as South American confederation president Alejandro Dominguez and FIFA chief Gianni Infantino both called Maradona "immortal.

The FIFA president said he wanted a ceremony for Maradona at every World Cup.

Kempes, an attacking midfielder in the 1978 side, praised Maradona as an "excellent" character.

"If you knew him you thought he would do one thing, but he would do completely the opposite -- that is genius," the 68-year-old told reporters.

Many fans went to a Maradona FanFest in a hangar near Doha airport where there was memorabilia and a private jet painted with the footballer's portrait.

A folk singer performed Argentine pop songs that told of Maradona's fame as well as his battle with cocaine and drink.

Argentina fans also gathered on the Doha seafront to unfurl flags in honour of Maradona.

Many hope he will pass his magic to Messi for Saturday's group game against Mexico. Argentina -- stunned by Saudi Arabia in their opening game -- must win to retain a realistic hope of reaching the second round.

"Diego is a god and you have to ask the gods for things and you have to thank them," said 23-year-old Santiago Corbetta.

"So I hope he gives us a little help now with the match against Mexico."

"His death is something Argentina has never got over," said Daniel Luque, who unfurled a flag with Maradona's portrait at the World Cup countdown clock early Friday.

"He was a player and a phenomenon. His troubles just made him even more a man of the people. If he had stood for president he would have won," added the 47-year-old.


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