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Roundup: Italy, Naples mourn the death of Argentine football legend Maradona

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Italy was mourning the death of legendary Argentine footballer Diego Maradona on Wednesday.

Maradona, who played the peak years of his career in Italy, died of a heart attack in Tigre, Argentina on Wednesday. His death came nearly four weeks after his 60th birthday, and just three weeks after being released from the hospital for surgery on a blood clot.

Maradona, widely considered to be among the top football players of all time, was an icon in Italy, despite a career overshadowed by substance abuse and polarizing comments.

He played in Italy’s top football division for SS Calcio Napoli, a team based in the southern Italian city of Naples. He was there from 1984 to 1991, when he was at the top of his game.

Maradona played in 188 games for Napoli — more the for any other team in his 21-year professional career — and he scored 81 goals. Napoli was founded in 1926, but it won its only two Serie A league championships with Maradona on its roster, in 1987 and 1990.

But Maradona became a divisive figure in Italy during the 1990 World Cup when Argentina faced Italy in the semifinals played in Naples. Just short of his 30th birthday, Maradona urged Neapolitan fans to support him and the Argentina squad rather than their national team.

The game ended in a 1-1 tie, with Argentina prevailing on penalty kicks — including the decisive goal by Maradona. The loss eliminated Italy from the tournament.

Months later, Maradona was traded from Napoli to Spanish team Sevilla, and his career went into decline. After that transfer, Maradona never played in Italy again.

In addition to his struggles with drugs and alcohol, Maradona was named in a 39-million-euro (52 million United States dollars at the time) in Italy in 2013. That case was later settled for undisclosed terms.

Still, despite the controversies, Maradona was revered in Italy. There were fan clubs dedicated to him in Naples and in other parts of Italy, and Napoli has retired this roster number, 10.

News of the footballer’s death quickly became front-page news in Italy, temporarily pushing developments in the coronavirus pandemic and world events out of the spotlight.

Gazzetta Dello Sport, Italy’s biggest sports publication, ran a banner headline reading “For Number 10 Maradona, football cries more than everyone.” The newspaper also quoted fellow football great Pele, the player Maradona is most often compared to, as saying “I will play football with Maradona in heaven.” Lionel Messi, another Argentinian who is considered of the greatest active players, was quoted as saying “Maradona isn’t gone. He is eternal.”

Corriere Della Sera, Italy’s largest newspaper, said “Goodbye Diego: you ARE football.” The Roman daily Il Messaggero called Maradona “A king of football with a Neapolitan heart.”

The biggest newspaper in Maradona’s former hometown of Naples, Il Mattino, said: “Naples mourns the loss of its eternal hero,” while television news channel RAI News 24 declared: “One of the greatest is no longer with us.”

(XINHUA)

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