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4 Jun, 2021 14:29

‘1960-infinity’: Messi helps unveil giant statue of Maradona while Argentina honor late icon with shirt tribute

‘1960-infinity’: Messi helps unveil giant statue of Maradona while Argentina honor late icon with shirt tribute

Lionel Messi issued a heartfelt tribute to the late Diego Maradona before Argentina's first game since his death last year, as a statue of the legendary player was unveiled at the Madre de Ciudades stadium in Santiago del Estero.

The Argentine icon passed away last November from a heart attack just weeks after he received surgery for a bleed on his brain, propelling Argentina and larger global football community into an extended spell of mourning for one of the game's most legendary figures in history.

The Argentina national side played their first game since Maradona's passing on Thursday in a crucial World Cup qualifier against South American rivals Chile.

In advance of the game, a five-meter tall bronze statue in Maradona's image was unveiled outside the stadium which hosted the game, with members of the Argentine squad - including Lionel Messi - gathering around the statue as a blue and white shawl was removed to reveal the artwork. 

The Argentina squad also donned Maradona's famous number 10 shirt as they lined up for the game, with their jerseys also featuring an image of the iconic star. Underneath the picture of Maradona were the words "1960-infinity" in a nod to the superstar's enduring legacy.

In the game itself, Lionel Messi gave Argentina a first-half lead from the penalty spot which was ultimately cancelled out by Inter Milan's Alexis Sanchez.

"It [the match] is special, since it was the first without Diego," Messi said of the intensely emotionally-charged game.

"It would have been nice if there were people in the stadium to pay tribute to him, but what is happening in the country and worldwide is complex. We wanted the win and to represent the national team as Maradona used to do."

The draw means that Argentina missed the opportunity to move above Brazil in the CONMEBOL qualification standings, while Chile remain in seventh position with just one win from their five games to date.

Also on rt.com Lionel Messi shares tribute to 'eternal' Diego Maradona after death of Argentina icon