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Maradona turns 60 as football icons applaud

Diego Maradona

Buenos Aires, Argentina | XINHUA |    Tributes flowed for Diego Maradona on Friday as the Argentinian football legend celebrated his 60th birthday.

The former Napoli, Barcelona and Boca Juniors forward was also honored with the unveiling of a giant mural showing him kissing the 1986 FIFA World Cup trophy in the center of Buenos Aires.

Maradona, who is now the head coach of Argentinian first division club Gimnasia y Esgrima, was forced to spend most of the day at home after one of his bodyguards showed symptoms of COVID-19.

He made a brief appearance at Gimnasia’s Juan Carmelo Zerillo stadium, where Argentinian Football Association president Claudio Tapia presented him with a commemorative plaque before his team’s opening league match of the season against Patronato.

However, a frail-looking Maradona left the stadium before kick-off to watch Gimnasia’s 3-0 victory from his home.

Among the array of well-wishers was Brazil’s three-time World Cup winner Pele, with whom Maradona shared the award for FIFA’s best player of the 20th century.

“My great friend, Maradona, I will always applaud you,” Pele, who turned 80 last week, said in a social media post. “I will always root for you. May your journey be long and may you always smile, and make me smile too. Happy birthday.”

Maradona left a heartfelt response that confirmed the pair’s long public feud has been laid to rest.

“My dear friend, King Pele, my team is about to go out and play but I don’t want to wait to thank you for your words and good wishes. It’s an honor to receive your greeting on the day of my birthday. A big hug, my friend.”

The former Albiceleste No. 10 also received lavish praise from dozens of high-profile figures in a 36-minute video posted on Instagram.

Ronaldo Nazario, Ronaldinho, Fabio Cannavaro and Carlos Tevez were among those to send their congratulations in the video.

“This is the best birthday present you could have given me,” Maradona said. “Thanks also to all of my team for preparing this great surprise.”

The driving force behind Argentina’s 1986 World Cup triumph in Mexico, Maradona has struggled with a series of health issues since ending his playing career in 1997.

In 2004, he was hospitalized with severe heart and respiratory problems related to a long battle with drug addiction. He has also undergone two gastric bypass operations to control his weight and received treatment for alcohol abuse.

In 2019, Maradona had surgery to stem bleeding in his stomach and also underwent a knee operation.

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XINHUA

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