Argentine players unveil new statue to Diego Maradona ahead of World Cup qualifier with Chile

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Lionel Messi and his Argentine team-mates unveil new statue of Diego Maradona and play with his picture on their shirts in the World Cup qualifier with Chile as they take to the field for the first time since the legend’s death

Diego Maradona was honored by Argentina’s football team when a statue of the legend was unveiled outside the new Madre de Ciudades stadium in Santiago del Estero.

Thursday night’s World Cup qualifier against Chile marked the first time Argentina had played since Maradona died on November 25 last year.

Members of the team gathered to witness the official unveiling of the statue, which shows Maradona standing with hands on hips and a ball at his feet.

A new statue of Diego Maradona was unveiled ahead of Argentina's match against Chile

A new statue of Diego Maradona was unveiled ahead of Argentina’s match against Chile

The Argentine players stood and watched the unveiling in Santiago del Estero . on Thursday

The Argentine players stood and watched the unveiling in Santiago del Estero . on Thursday

The Argentine players stood and watched the unveiling in Santiago del Estero . on Thursday

Lionel Messi and Co took to the field with pictures of Maradona on the front of their shirts

Lionel Messi and Co took to the field with pictures of Maradona on the front of their shirts

Lionel Messi and Co took to the field with pictures of Maradona on the front of their shirts

The players also wore shirts with a photo of Maradona with the words ‘1960-∞’ to reflect his everlasting legacy in the country.

He died of heart failure late last year at the age of 60 and an investigation into the circumstances of his death concluded that his medical team had acted in an “inappropriate, flawed and reckless manner”.

Maradona, who battled alcohol and drug addiction for years, underwent brain surgery in November not long before his death.

The investigation found that the 1986 World Cup winner had been left in ‘torment’ for at least 12 hours and that the care he received in his final hours was ‘inadequate and incomplete’.

Argentina could only draw 1-1 with Chile, with former Arsenal and Manchester United player Alexis Sanchez nullifying Lionel Messi’s penalty opener.

The statue of Maradona stands outside the new Estadio Unico Madre de Ciudades.  with 30,000 seats

The statue of Maradona stands outside the new Estadio Unico Madre de Ciudades.  with 30,000 seats

The statue of Maradona stands outside the new Estadio Unico Madre de Ciudades. with 30,000 seats

It was the first time Argentina played since Maradona died in November at the age of 60 60

It was the first time Argentina played since Maradona died in November at the age of 60 60

It was the first time Argentina played since Maradona died in November at the age of 60 60

Lionel Messi with Argentine FA president Claudio Tapia at the unveiling ceremony

Lionel Messi with Argentine FA president Claudio Tapia at the unveiling ceremony

Lionel Messi with Argentine FA president Claudio Tapia at the unveiling ceremony

An inquest into Maradona's death said he received 'inadequate medical care'

An inquest into Maradona's death said he received 'inadequate medical care'

An inquest into Maradona’s death said he received ‘inadequate medical care’

Argentine football icon, who won the World Cup in 1986, died on November 25

Argentine football icon, who won the World Cup in 1986, died on November 25

Argentine football icon, who won the World Cup in 1986, died on November 25

However, they remain on track to reach Qatar 2022 but are second behind Brazil in the South American qualifying group with 11 points from their first five matches. Argentina will play an away game against Colombia on Tuesday.

Messi said afterwards that he could feel Maradona watching over them during the match.

“It was a very important game to be the first without Diego Maradona,” he said. “We know what the national team meant to him and we know he was there.”

The 30,000-seat Estadio Unico Madre de Ciudades was inaugurated in March when it hosted the postponed 2019 Supercopa Argentina, with River Plate beating Racing Club 5-0.

The venue was slated to host matches at the Copa America, which begins this month, but the tournament has been moved to Brazil with just 13 days’ notice due to rising Covid-19 numbers in Argentina.

A penalty from Lionel Messi was not enough for Argentina as they drew 1-1 against Chile

A penalty from Lionel Messi was not enough for Argentina as they drew 1-1 against Chile

A penalty from Lionel Messi was not enough for Argentina as they drew 1-1 against Chile

Messi came close with two free kicks - one hit the post - and also missed a late chance

Messi came close with two free kicks - one hit the post - and also missed a late chance

Messi came close with two free kicks – one hit the post – and also missed a late chance

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