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

Nov 24, 2022, 3:31 PM | Updated: Nov 25, 2022, 10:57 am
People walk past a mural of former Argentine player Diego Maradona, who led his country to the 1986...

People walk past a mural of former Argentine player Diego Maradona, who led his country to the 1986 World Cup title, on a street prior to kick off the Qatar 2022 FIFA World Cup in Doha, Sunday, Nov. 20, 2022. (AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko)

(AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko)

              People walk past a mural of former Argentine player Diego Maradona, who led his country to the 1986 World Cup title, on a street prior to kick off the Qatar 2022 FIFA World Cup in Doha, Sunday, Nov. 20, 2022. (AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko)
            
              FIFA President Gianni Infantino speaks beside a statue of the late soccer star Diego Maradona during a commemoration in his honor in Doha, in Friday, Nov. 25, 2022. (AP Photo/Jorge Saenz)
            
              People walk past a mural of former Argentine player Diego Maradona, who led his country to the 1986 World Cup title, on a street prior to kick off the Qatar 2022 FIFA World Cup in Doha, Sunday, Nov. 20, 2022. (AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko)
            
              FIFA President Gianni Infantino speaks beside a statue of the late soccer star Diego Maradona during a commemoration in his honor in Doha, in Friday, Nov. 25, 2022. (AP Photo/Jorge Saenz)
            
              People walk past a painting of Argentinian soccer idol Diego Armando Maradona in a pedestrian area in downtown Doha, Qatar, Friday, Nov. 18, 2022. (AP Photo/Francisco Seco)
            
              Argentinian fan holds up banner with soccer legend Diego Maradona as the fan zone opens ahead of the FIFA World Cup in Doha, Qatar, Saturday, Nov. 19, 2022. (AP Photo/Petr David Josek)
            
              Argentina's fans hold a picture of soccer legend Diego Maradona prior the World Cup group C soccer match between Argentina and Saudi Arabia at the Lusail Stadium in Lusail, Qatar, Tuesday, Nov. 22, 2022. (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko)
            
              A fan wears a shirt of soccer legend Diego Maradona cheers prior to the World Cup group C soccer match between Argentina and Saudi Arabia at the Lusail Stadium in Lusail, Qatar, Tuesday, Nov. 22, 2022. (AP Photo/Ricardo Mazalan)
            
              Argentina's fans hold a banner showing Diego Maradona handing over the trophy to Lionel Messi prior to the World Cup group C soccer match between Argentina and Saudi Arabia at the Lusail Stadium in Lusail, Qatar, Tuesday, Nov. 22, 2022. (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko)
            
              Children pose for a picture with a statue of the late soccer star Diego Maradona during a commemoration in his honor in Doha, in Friday, Nov. 25, 2022. (AP Photo/Jorge Saenz)

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

The team could use him more than ever as the South American team is off to a rocky start at the tournament.

Friday marked the second anniversary of Maradona’s death, and both Argentina and FIFA commemorated the day in Qatar.

A few thousand Argentina fans gathered at Doha’s historic Souq Waqif market to honor Maradona and show their support to the national team. They filled the streets with the blue-and-white Argentina flag and constantly chanted Maradona songs.

“We miss him too much. He was always there for us,” 64-year-old Julio Valsi said. “But we can still feel him. I’m sure he will be looking over the national team from wherever he is. We need him to help us right now.”

It’s already a strange World Cup for Argentina even without Maradona.

Lionel Messi is making what is expected to be his final appearance at the World Cup and the team lost 2-1 to Saudi Arabia in one of the tournament’s biggest upsets.

“We hope that some of Maradona’s bravery will somehow help our team in this difficult moment,” said 56-year-old Claudio Martin.

Argentina coach Lionel Scaloni said before Saturday’s decisive match against Mexico that he hoped to “bring some joy to Maradona if he is looking down at us from the sky.”

“Every time we see images of him, it’s unbelievable he is not here with us,” he said.

Maradona, his nation’s beloved soccer “God,” had been a presence for Argentina at every World Cup since 1982 as a player, coach and elder statesman.

Maradona died at age 60 on Nov. 25, 2020, a date most Argentines will never forget. He passed away while under hospital care in his home following brain surgery, and judicial authorities continue to investigate if medical negligence was involved.

Several tributes were dedicated to Maradona before the 2022 World Cup, both in Argentina and in Qatar.

“Diego is immortal, he is still with us,” FIFA president Gianni Infantino said Friday in front of a real-size statue of Maradona unveiled at an event in Qatar organized by South American soccer confederation CONMEBOL.

“What this man has done to get people to fall in love with this sport, maybe nobody else has been able to do,” he said.

Infantino said that at every World Cup going forward will be a day reserved to celebrate Maradona.

“Everyone knows about the unique sincerity and charisma that Diego had,” Infantino said. “He was a great leader in Argentina, South America and the entire world. We have to keep celebrating him.”

Several former Argentina teammates of Maradona were at the event in Qatar.

In Buenos Aires, a huge mural had already emerged of Maradona wearing a national team jersey and holding his right hand in a fist, a defiant expression on his face. The massive piece of artwork climbs 148 feet high and 131 feet wide (45 meters by 40 meters) and was painted on the side of a 14-story building in the Argentine capital.

Another mural with images of Maradona was put together in Doha not too many kilometers (miles) from where Messi and Argentina were shocked by Saudi Arabia in the team’s first group stage match.

Messi, playing in his fifth World Cup, had told FIFA ahead of the Qatar tournament that it was “strange, different” not to see Maradona in the tribunes or the “people going crazy when he appears.” He said he felt Maradona would always “be present somewhere.”

Maradona played in four World Cups from 1982 to 1994, and was the coach of the national team in 2010.

Some of his best — and worst — moments came at the World Cup, from the “Hand of God” goal against England in 1986 to his failed doping test that got him expelled from the tournament in 1994.

Maradona led Argentina to the title in 1986, when his hand goal in the quarterfinals against England became one of the greatest — and most controversial ones — in tournament history. In that same match, he also scored one of the best World Cup goals ever after a run past opponents that began on Argentina’s own field.

Not long before the 2022 World Cup kicked off, the Argentine soccer association received the original shirt that Maradona wore in the 1986 tournament as a gift from Germany great Lothar Matthaus, who exchanged jerseys with Maradona after Argentina’s 3-2 win at Azteca Stadium in Mexico City.

As Argentina’s coach in 2010 in South Africa, Maradona led the national team to the quarterfinals, when it was eliminated by Germany.

One of the most disturbing images of the star at a World Cup came eight years later in Russia, when an overweight and somewhat disoriented Maradona collapsed at the stadium in St. Petersburg following a 2-1 victory over Nigeria, when Messi scored one of the goals.

The 35-year-old Messi likely won’t be back for another World Cup four years from now. And if he can’t find a way to lead this year’s team to a good result against Mexico, Argentina’s first World Cup without Maradona will come to an end without Messi as well.

___

Associated Press writer Débora Rey in Doha, Qatar, contributed to this report.

___

AP World Cup coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/world-cup and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

___

Tales Azzoni on Twitter: http://twitter.com/tazzoni

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

AP

Germany's Leon Gorentzka steps on the right shin of Spain's Gavi during the World Cup group E socce...
Associated Press

Gavi misses Spain practice at World Cup because of injury

DOHA, Qatar (AP) — Teenager Gavi did not practice with Spain on Monday, a day after the team’s draw with Germany at the World Cup. Gavi was nursing a minor injury sustained in the 1-1 draw at Al Bayt Stadium on Sunday. The 18-year-old midfielder was substituted in the 66th minute against Germany, shortly after […]
1 day ago
Argentina's Lionel Messi celebrates after scoring his side's opening goal during the World Cup grou...
Associated Press

Canelo slams Messi over Mexico team World Cup jersey

DOHA, Qatar (AP) — In one corner, Saúl “Canelo” Álvarez. In the other, Lionel Messi. The Argentina star may have gotten into trouble with the wrong person after moving the Mexican national team jersey with his foot while celebrating his team’s much-needed World Cup win against Mexico on Saturday. The Mexican boxer said on Twitter […]
1 day ago
Serbia's Sergej Milinkovic-Savic, left, and Cameroon's Pierre Kunde battle for the ball during the ...
Associated Press

Aboubakar saves Cameroon in 3-3 tie with Serbia at World Cup

AL WAKRAH, Qatar (AP) — Substitute Vincent Aboubakar scored one goal and created another as Cameroon rallied from 3-1 down to draw 3-3 with Serbia at the World Cup on Monday. He lobbed goalkeeper Vanja Milinkovic-Savic in the 64th minute and then set up striker Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting two minutes later. The thrilling draw was […]
1 day ago
Germany's Niclas Fuellkrug celebrates after he scored his side's first goal during the World Cup gr...
Associated Press

‘Super guy’ Füllkrug drives Germany forward at World Cup

AL KHOR, Qatar (AP) — Niclas Füllkrug was scoring goals in Germany’s second division one year ago. Now he’s scoring at the World Cup. “That’s exactly what he’s there for,” teammate Thomas Müller said after Füllkrug’s late goal rescued a 1-1 draw for Germany against Spain in Group E on Sunday. Exactly one year earlier, […]
1 day ago
Argentina's Lionel Messi celebrates after scoring his side's opening goal during the World Cup grou...
Associated Press

Argentina-Mexico World Cup Spanish TV gets 8.9M US viewers

DOHA, Qatar (AP) — Argentina’s 2-0 win over Mexico was the most-watched Spanish-language World Cup group stage broadcast in U.S. history, drawing 8.9 million viewers on Telemundo television and the streaming services of Telemundo and Peacock. The game, which started at 2 p.m. EST Saturday, topped the previous group stage mark of 5.7 million set […]
1 day ago
People take selfies while riding camels in Mesaieed, Qatar, Nov. 26, 2022. Throngs of World Cup fan...
Associated Press

World Cup frenzy puts strain on Qatar’s camels

MESAIEED, Qatar (AP) — Shaheen stretched out on the sand and closed his eyes, but there was little time to rest for the camel. World Cup fans coming in droves to the desert outside Doha were ready for their perfect Instagram moment: riding a camel on the rolling dunes. As Qatar welcomes more than a […]
1 day ago
Maradona’s World Cup absence ‘strange’ for Messi, Argentina