Argentina’s rugby team will hope to honour a national hero during their blockbuster Tri Nations clash with the All Blacks at McDonald Jones Stadium on Saturday night.
It comes in the wake of the death of Diego Armando Maradona, who passed away yesterday after suffering a cardiac arrest in his Buenos Aires home at the age of 60.
Maradona was known worldwide as a player for which the superlatives simply ran out but, in his native Argentina, he was “a symbol”, according to Pumas coach Mario Ledesma.
“He united people in Argentina, where, in Argentina, sometimes it’s difficult to unite people, especially [those] who think differently,” Ledesma said at press conference yesterday (Thursday 26 November).
“He gave a lot of happiness to a lot of people in difficult times, he was somebody who came from very little and he became the king of the world almost.
“So, that gives hope for a lot of Argentinians who struggle, and think that could be possible for them too.”
The iconic number 10 played one match in Australia, in a qualifying playoff in Sydney as the sides battled out a one-all draw in front of a capacity crowd at the Sydney Football Stadium.
Unfortunately for the Socceroos, Maradona’s men won the second leg one-nil to reach the 1994 World Cup in the United States.
In response to the star’s sudden death, Argentinian President Alberto Fernández declared three days of national mourning.
Diego Maradona started out his career at Argentinian side Argentinos Juniors, and played for Boca Juniors, Barcelona, Napoli, Sevilla, and Newell’s Old Boys, before returning to finish his career at Boca Juniors.
However, Maradona is most commonly associated and beloved for his time with Italian side Napoli, where he spent eight seasons of his career.
Whilst in Naples, Maradona guided the team to their first ever league titles, a Coppa Italia, a UEFA Cup, and an Italian Super Cup victory, which led the club to retire his shirt number, 10.
In response to his death, the Napoli Club President Aurelio De Laurentiis said the Naples club could rename their stadium in honour of Maradona.
An avid fan of all Argentinian sport, coach Mario Ledesma praised Maradona’s attitude towards the national team jersey.
“He was passionate about every team, he would go tennis, hockey, rugby or football, everything, whenever there was an Argentinean jersey he was there,” Ledesma said.
“He was an example of how to represent the jersey on the field, whenever he was the number one in the world, he would be in any part of the world and he would cross the whole continent to get back and play for the Argentina jersey.
“He loved the Pumas, he’ll be watching for sure.”
Argentina tackle against New Zealand in week five of the Tri Nations tournament in Newcastle tomorrow (Saturday 28 November). Kick-off is at 7.45pm.
Tri Nations squads for round 5:
New Zealand: 15 – Beauden Barrett, 14 – Jordie Barrett, 13 – Anton Lienert-Brown, 12 – Jack Goodhue, 11 – Caleb Clarke, 10 -Richie Mo’unga, 9 – Aaron Smith, 8 – Ardie Savea, 7 – Sam Cane (captain), 6 – Akira Ioane, 5 – Sam Whitelock, 4 – Scott Barrett, 3 – Nepo Laulala, 2 – Dane Coles, 1 – Joe Moody. Replacements: 16 – Codie Taylor, 17 – Karl Tu’inukuafe, 18 – Tyrel Lomax, 19 -Patrick Tuipulotu, 20 – Hoskins Sotutu, 21 – TJ Perenara, 22 – Rieko Ioane, 23 – Will Jordan.
Argentina: 15 – Emiliano Boffelli, 14 – Ramiro Moyano, 13 – Juan Cruz Mallia, 12 – Jeronimo de la Fuente, 11 – Santiago Cordero, 10 – Nicolas Sanchez, 9 – Felipe Excurra, 8 – Facundo Isa, 7 – Marcos Kremer, 6 – Pablo Matera (captain), 5 – Lucas Paulos, 4 – Guido Petti, 3 – Santiago Medrano, 2 – Julian Montoya, 1 – Mayco Vivas. Replacements: 16 – Santiago Socino, 17 -Nahuel Tetaz Chapparo, 18 – Lucio Sordoni, 19 – Matias Alemanno, 20 – Santiago Grondona, 21 – Gonzalo Bertranou, 22 -Santiago Carreras, 23 – Lucas Mensa.