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Friday, 9 November, 2001, 12:45 GMT
Argentina's tribute to Maradona
Diego Maradona with former Argentine president and his wife
Maradona with ex-president Menem and his wife Cecilia
He rose from the slums to be on top of the football world.

And now Argentina is preparing to pay tribute to its favourite, if wayward, son Diego Maradona.

He will come out of retirement for a farewell match as Argentina take on a Rest of the World side of past and present stars in Buenos Aires on Saturday.

The gifted midfielder was perhaps the most talented player after Pele to grace the game.

But his career stumbled into controversy, and Maradona has been dogged by drug addiction and ill health since quitting the game.

Although an overweight shadow of the footballer at his peak, he is guaranteed a rapturous reception when he plays for one last time in his homeland.

  Diego Armando Maradona
Born: 30-10-60, Buenos Aires
First Argentina cap: Aged 16, 1977
Last cap: Aged 33, 1994
International caps: 91
International goals: 34
World Cup: Winner 1986, runner-up 1990
Retired: 30-10-97, his 37th birthday

And after the game, the number 10 shirt made famous by Maradona, will be retired as a mark of respect.

Maradona, who now llves in Cuba, has promised he is fit and well for his farewell match.

The 41-year-old underwent a minor knee operation in Colombia in October and suffered a heart attack in January of last year.

But he insisted: "I'm calm, I'm well and I'm ready to enjoy this fiesta."

Among those invited to play are Hristo Stoichkov, of Bulgaria, Colombian Carlos Valderrama, Uruguay's Enzo Francescoli, French maverick Eric Cantona and Romario, of Brazil.

The match takes place at the Bombonera stadium in Buenos Aires, home to Boca Juniors and Diego's spiritual base.

Boca Juniors were the team that launched his career in the early 1980s and where he ended his career in 1997.

Maradona said he felt "very proud" the game had been organised for him and promised he had been working hard to be ready.

"I have put in all the appropriate training for the game that any professional player would," he said, claiming he was ready to play for 100 minutes if allowed.

Diego Maradona's weight ballooned after he stopped playing
Past his prime: Maradona during drug rehabilitation

Maradona's 20-year playing career was laden with trophies, including league titles in Argentina and Italy.

He famously led his country to victory in the 1986 World Cup and the runners-up spot four years later.

En route to glory in 1986, he scored two of the tournament's most memorable goals - one controversial, one brilliant.

He claimed the 'Hand of God' had intervened when he punched past Peter Shilton in the quarter-final victory over England.

But he sealed the win with a captivating mazy dribble past several bewildered opponents and a perfect finish.

Those goals were just two from a total of 34 he scored in 91 games for Argentina between 1977 and 1994.

Speaking before Saturday's testimonial, Maradona said he was grateful the number 10 jersey was being retired.

He also had a message of support for his friend and former Argentine president Carlos Menem, currently under house arrest over charges of illegal arms trafficking.

Diego Maradona shone for Argentina in two World Cups
In his heyday: Maradona was a gifted playmaker

"I would have liked him to be here," he said.

Maradona has also indicated he would like Cuba president Fidel Castro to attend his testimonial.

He sports a new tattoo of Castro on his left shin to go with a tattoo of Latin American guerrilla Ernesto "Che" Guevara on his shoulder.

But despite his new-found association with Cuba, Maradona will forever be linked with Argentina.

Last year, football's governing body Fifa chose him as the game's best ever player, alongside Pele.

The Argentine was initially the stand-alone choice until Pele fans successfully argued the case of the great Brazilian.

In Buenos Aires on Saturday, there will be no argument, even if Maradona is now a distant figure from the star that lifted a nation.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
BBC Sport's Rory Macdonald
"A flawed genius, but a genius all the same"

Diego Maradona's No.10 shirt will be retired by the Argentinian FA on Saturday 10 NovemberLittle wonder
Images from Diego Maradona's colourful career

BBC Sport Online takes a look at the fledgling career of Diego Maradona's son
Maradona Mk II


Nigel Adderley
Who is next Maradona?

See also:

26 Sep 01 |  Football
Argentina's Maradona tribute
10 Sep 01 |  World Cup 2002
Argentina warms to coach
09 Sep 01 |  Eng Prem
Maradona looks to England
09 Nov 01 |  Football
Chip off the old block
20 Aug 01 |  Football
Diego's drugs regret
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