Diego Maradona’s body arrived at the presidential palace in Argentina today as a grieving country prepares to pay its last respects to the flawed football genius who died on Wednesday at the age of 60.
As a crowd of weeping fans gathered outside, Maradona’s coffin was lifted out of an ambulance and brought into the palace where it will lie in state in a three-day spectacle of national mourning.
Others gathered outside the Buenos Aires stadium where Maradona began his career and which has since been renamed in his honour, setting up a makeshift shrine to celebrate Argentina’s legendary number 10.
His death has also been keenly felt in Europe, especially in Naples where he steered an unfashionable side to two league titles and where fans let off flares in tribute last night.
In Britain, where he is best remembered for his ‘Hand of God’ goal against England in 1986 – an act of brazen cheating followed only minutes later by one of the greatest goals in football history – a minute’s silence took place ahead of Liverpool’s Champions League match on Wednesday night.
Regarded by some as the greatest player of all time, Maradona combined awesome footballing ability with a flair for showmanship and a turbulent personal life marked by drug and alcohol problems.
An autopsy report leaked to Argentine media said he died in his sleep after suffering heart failure, only two weeks after leaving hospital following surgery to remove a blood clot on his brain.
Medics also detected dilated cardiomyopathy, a medical condition in which the heart muscle becomes weakened and enlarged and cannot pump enough blood to the rest of the body.
His nephew Johnny Esposito was the last person to see him alive, according to the report, before doctors with an appointment to see him went to his estate on Wednesday and found him unresponsive.
Three days of mourning have been declared by the Argentinian president Alberto Fernandez.
‘You took us to the top of the world. You made us immensely happy. You were the greatest of all,’ the leader tweeted. ‘Thanks for having existed, Diego. We will miss you for a lifetime.’
Maradona is survived by five children, including his daughters Dalma, 33, and Ganina, 31, by his first and only wife Claudia Villafane, 58, to whom he was married from 1984 to 2004.
He had his youngest son Diego Fernando with his long-term girlfriend Veronica Ojeda in 2013; while he only acknowledged Diego Junior, 34, and daughter Jana, 23, in the last five years, both born after short flings.
The footballer’s family have yet to make any formal comment.
Paramedics made an unsuccessful attempt to revive him after they arrived at the rented house in the gated residential estate of San Andres north of Buenos Aires he had moved to after leaving hospital following his operation on November 11.
Prosecution chief John Broyad, speaking outside San Andres as the retired footballer’s body was taken to a nearby morgue for an autopsy, said: ‘Diego Armando Maradona died around 12pm local time. The forensic police began their work at 4pm.
‘No signs of any criminality or violence have been detected. The autopsy is being carried out to determine beyond any doubt the cause of death but we can say at this stage that everything is pointing to natural causes.’