Maradona’s World Cup absence ‘strange’ for Messi, Argentina

DOHA, Qatar (AP) — For the first time since the 1978 World Cup, Argentina are without Diego Maradona on football’s biggest stage.

The team needs him more than ever, as the South American side’s start to the tournament has not been smooth.

Friday marks the second anniversary of Maradona’s death, with both Argentina and FIFA commemorating events in Qatar.

Argentina coach Lionel Scaloni said the day Maradona died was “a very sad day for everyone”.

“Tomorrow we hope to give Maradona some joy, if he looks down on us from the sky,” Scaloni said ahead of his side’s decisive game against Mexico on Saturday. “That’s the most important thing for us. Every time we see a picture of him, it’s unbelievable that he’s not with us.”

Even without Maradona, it was already a strange World Cup for Argentina.

Lionel Messi It was expected to be his final appearance at the World Cup as the team lost 2-1 to Saudi Arabia One of the biggest upsets in the game.

Maradona, his country’s beloved football “god”, has represented Argentina in every World Cup since 1982 as player, coach and patriarch.

Maradona died on November 25, 2020 at the age of 60, a date most Argentines will never forget. He died while hospitalized at home after undergoing brain surgery, and judicial authorities are still investigating whether medical negligence was involved.

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Both Argentina and Qatar have paid tribute to Maradona ahead of the 2022 World Cup.

“Diego is immortal and he is still with us,” said FIFA President Gianni Infantino, who unveiled a life-size statue of Maradona at an event hosted by CONMEBOL in Qatar on Friday. said before.

“What this man has done to make people fall in love with the game, maybe no one else has,” he said.

Infantino said that every World Cup in the future will set aside a day to celebrate Maradona.

“Everyone knows that Diego has a unique sincerity and charisma,” Infantino said. “He was a great leader in Argentina, South America and the world. We must continue to celebrate him.”

Several of Maradona’s former Argentine teammates attended the event in Qatar. Argentine fans plan to hold a rally for him in Doha later on Friday.

In Buenos Aires, a huge mural Maradona has already appeared wearing the national team jersey, fisting his right hand and looking provocative. Standing 148 feet high and 131 feet wide (45 meters by 40 meters), the massive artwork is painted on the side of a 14-story building in the Argentine capital.

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Another mural featuring an image of Maradona was put together in Doha, not far from where Messi and Argentina were stunned by Saudi Arabia. In the team’s first group match.

Messi, in his fifth World Cup, told FIFA ahead of the tournament in Qatar that it was “weird, different” not to see Maradona in the stands or “people go crazy when he does”. He said he felt Maradona would always “be there somewhere”.

Maradona participated in four World Cups between 1982 and 1994 and served as national team coach in 2010.

Some of his best and worst moments have come at the World Cup, from his “Hand of God” goal against England in 1986 to his expulsion from the World Cup after a failed doping test in 1994.

Maradona led Argentina to the title in 1986 when his goal against England in the quarter-finals became the greatest – and one of the most controversial – goals in the tournament’s history . He also scored one of the best World Cup goals ever scored in the same game after beating Argentina’s opponents on their own pitch.

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Shortly before the start of the 2022 World Cup, the Argentine Football Association received the original jersey worn by Maradona in the 1986 World Cup. Swapped jersey cities with Maradona after victory over Mexico’s Azteca Stadium.

As the coach of Argentina in South Africa in 2010, Maradona led the national team to the quarter-finals, but was eliminated by the German team.

One of the most disturbing images of the star at the World Cup came eight years later in Russia, when an overweight and somewhat disoriented Maradona collapsed at St Petersburg’s stadium after a 2-1 win over Nigeria, while Messi Scored a goal.

Four years later, the 35-year-old Messi may not return for another World Cup. And if he can’t find a way to lead this year’s team to a good result against Mexico, then Argentina’s first World Cup without Maradona will also end without Messi.


Associated Press writer Deborah Rae in Doha, Qatar, contributed to this report.


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