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Argentina’s Most Sacred World Cup Watch Party: Maradona’s Former Home


BUENOS AIRES — Argentina just reached the World Cup final with a 3-0 win over Croatia on Tuesday, but most of the Argentinians at the party simply wanted to poke fun at this stranger’s house.

There was a retired person taking a selfie in a corner bar with a mirror. A house cleaner hangs out the window of an empty bedroom. A tattoo artist checked out a spare toilet upstairs. And a hotel owner led his mother-in-law to wander around barefoot.

“When I walked in, I started crying,” said Osvaldo Bonacchi, 52, an air conditioner repairman. He began to cry again on the spiral staircase that led up to the carpeted attic, where a sauna was said to have been. He lived nearby for 15 years and always wondered what it was like inside.

“Being here is a dream,” he said.

The ramshackle three-story chalet in a quiet neighborhood in Buenos Aires once belonged to Argentine football hero Diego Maradona, and at this World Cup it has become one of the hottest venues in Argentina to stay. watch a match.

A local businessman bought the house last month and has opened the door for some of the past games, paying for drinks and more than 1,000 pounds of meat to hundreds of friends, neighbors and strangers gathered around the lake. Swimming in Maradona’s backyard to cheer on the national team.

“We started letting people in, and then they collapsed and started crying,” the home’s new owner, Ariel Fernando García, 47, said of the first party. “For me, he’s an alien,” he said of Maradona. “No man has brought more joy to the Argentinian.”

Maradona died of a heart attack in 2020 at the age of 60 but remains one of Argentina’s greatest figures. The story of a poor boy in Buenos Aires who rose to become one of the greatest footballers in history and the leader of Argentina’s 1986 World Cup-winning team that made him a god in the nation. This 46 million people.

In fact, the Church of Maradona is a legally recognized religion in Argentina, now in its 25th year, with tens of thousands of members with branches around the world. Some Google searches will return a small question box that others have searched for, starting with: “Is Diego Maradona God?”

So on Tuesday, when hundreds of people flocked to Maradona’s old home, with its stained-glass windows and crystal chandeliers, there was an atmosphere of faith, devotion and sanctity, mixed in with the aroma of two large pieces of beef cooked on a skewer of saliva. backside.

“You can really feel him here,” said Roxana Orio, a 35-year-old tattoo artist with Maradona’s number 10 – the number he wears when he competes – engraved on her left ankle. when she visited the house with her number 8. – old daughter.

There was a spacious backyard with synthetic grass where Maradona practiced, a balcony where Maradona greeted fans on the street after the 1986 World Cup and a small, now empty bedroom where Maradona used to sleep.

They ventured to the garage where an old tube television was located. A friend of the new owner pointed out that it was once in Maradona’s bedroom. People take pictures.

Up a narrow flight of stairs, there is an abandoned bathroom with a bidet and a broken toilet, the light blue of the Argentina national team, and then a storage room with a hole in the top. ceiling and a box of old children’s books and exercises. A notebook that appears to belong to one of Maradona’s daughters. “I need to take a picture of this relic,” Orio said.

Maradona bought the house in the early 1980s, mainly as a gift for his parents, but he has lived there at various times over the decades, according to local news reports and García, who has talked to the Maradona family about the history of the house during the purchase process. (It was one of many homes Maradona owned in Buenos Aires.)

While Maradona’s family lived there, García grew up nearby. He said he tried to look inside the house every chance he got and celebrated outside the house in 1986, when Argentina won the World Cup, and in 1990, when the team reached the final. conclude.

Then, earlier this year, he saw an article that said the house had been on the market for a year and if it didn’t sell in a week, it would be sold to a developer planning to demolish it. Drop it and build an apartment. tower in its place.

García called the real estate agent, who listed the house and agreed to buy it without consideration. To be sure, he borrowed $50,000 in the form of a $100 bill from a friend (Argentina real estate transactions are often completed in strong US currency due to the volatility of the Argentine peso) to prepay. The final price is 900,000 USD.

“It’s just another crazy thing my husband does,” his wife, Marcela Vozza, said as she stood on a crowded balcony above the sea of ​​revelers in the street below after Tuesday’s win.

García took the bumpy road to owning the home of an Argentinian legend. He served two years in prison from 2002 to 2004 in connection with an assault he said he carried out to protect a family member.

In prison, he completed his law degree, and since his release he has become a thriving businessman, buying and selling restaurants, buildings, and other businesses. Today, he runs a pharmaceutical company, a food company, and a company that makes low-cost wires and cables.

After buying Maradona’s house, García’s first idea was to turn it into a kind of museum. But then he had another idea when his family first saw it three weeks ago, after he received the keys.

García said his son is recovering from a knife attack at a nightclub, and for the first time since the injury, he lights up when he walks into the house. García immediately decided to open the door for matches. “It all started with that smile,” he said of his son.

At first it was family and friends, but eventually the parties expanded as people invited others. He said that at the time Argentina played Poland, there were about 700 people. He hired caterers to cook beef, pork, gizzards and Argentina’s famous “choripan” bread, made with chorizo. He serves soda and water – but no alcohol.

“I believe there are signs that Maradona chose me to make the house a happy place – just like what he conveyed on the pitch,” said García. He had planned to reopen for Argentina’s World Cup final against France on Sunday.

On Tuesday, the atmosphere quickly turned from tense to jubilant as Argentina scored many goals. A percussion band with brass parts plays songs written for Argentina’s World Cup team. Children shoot silly blue string into the crowd. And, while the party went on in a state of sobriety, a lot of adults – including García’s mother-in-law – got into the pool with their clothes on.

At the beginning of the second half, Argentina led 2-0 but some fans were still cautious. “Last time we were 2-0 down, things escalated quickly,” said consultant Gaston Marano, eyes not leaving the screen, referring to Argentina’s quarter-final against the Netherlands last week that required a penalty shootout. .

Moments later, Argentina star Lionel Messi circled a defender and made a miraculous assist to score the third goal.

“I can relax now,” said Marano.

Many bodies have entered the pool.

Natalie Alcoba Contribution reports from Buenos Aires.

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