BUENOS AIRES (Reuters) – The Argentine league restarted on Saturday following the country’s emotional goodbye to Diego Maradona, with players, coaches and even referees expressing their love and gratitude to the country’s best-known soccer star.
The main domestic competition was hastily renamed the Diego Maradona Cup, and games in the first stage of group matches kicked off across the country after a minute’s applause from those present in the fan-free stadiums.
Referees wore shirts with “Gracias Diego” emblazoned on the back, and players dedicated goals to the former World Cup star who died from a heart attack on Wednesday.
The club that Maradona coached at the time of his death, Gimnasia y Esgrima, took to the field wearing shirts with Maradona 10 on the back and were filmed chanting his name in the dressing room after their 1-0 win over Velez Sarsfield.
“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,” a teary-eyed Victor Ayala of Gimnasia told the TyC Sports channel.
Another of their players, substitute Lucas Licht, was photographed coming off the bench in stoppage time wearing an old pair of boots gifted to him by the former Boca Juniors and Napoli player.
Some stadiums played songs written in tribute to the star during a storied career that included the 1986 World Cup triumph. Others displayed the face of the famous No. 10 on their big screens 10 minutes into the game.
Other sports including basketball and motor racing also paid tribute to Maradona, who was buried in a private ceremony on Thursday, before and during the weekend action.
(Reporting by Ramiro Scandolo; Writing by Andrew Downie; Editing by William Mallard)