Rugby

All Blacks rugby squad pays tribute to soccer icon, 'world legend' Maradona

New Zealand paid tribute to Diego Maradona when captain Sam Cane laid an All Black jersey, No. 10, on the field before the start of their Tri-Nations test match against Argentina on Saturday.

Captain Sam Cane lays team jersey on field before Tri-Nations test match in Australia

All Blacks captain Sam Cane lays down a No. 10 jersey prior to Saturday's Tri-Nations match against Argentina Pumas in memory of soccer icon Diego Maradona, who died Wednesday of a heart attack at age 60. (Brendon Thorne/Getty Images)

New Zealand paid tribute to Diego Maradona when captain Sam Cane laid an All Black jersey, No. 10, on the field before the start of their Tri-Nations test match against Argentina on Saturday.

As the All Blacks lined up to perform the haka, Cane stepped out, walked toward midfield and laid down the jersey — with Maradona's name and number on it — as Argentine players stood arm-in-arm and watched.

"It was a gesture, a token, of paying our respects to an Argentine legend, a world legend in his field as well," Cane told The Associated Press after the match in Newcastle, which New Zealand won 38-0.

Maradona died Wednesday of a heart attack at age 60 in a house outside Buenos Aires. The soccer great had been recovering from a brain operation.

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The idea came from All Blacks halfback TJ Perenara, Cane said.

"Rugby is a game first and foremost that is built on respect I believe, and it was the respectful and right thing to do," Cane said.

Maradona's death 'a source of inspiration'

Several Argentine players nodded in acknowledgment of the gesture.

"I didn't know [about the tribute] until I did the coin toss with Sam Cane and he told me about it," Pumas flanker Pablo Matera said. "I'm really thankful for that. Diego Maradona was obviously huge for Argentina, so I'm really thankful for that gesture from the All Blacks."

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Matera told The Associated Press that Maradona's passing had been a source of inspiration for many of the squad.

"Maradona was a guy who represented our country the best way you could represent us as a sportsman," Matera said. "He's been a huge inspiration for all of us: players, coaches, the people of Argentina.

"So, we always have him in our thoughts and we just want to represent our country the way he did."

Manchester City and Burnley soccer players and coaches stood and applauded as a video showed Maradona's famous solo run and goal for Argentina against England in the quarter-finals of the 1986 World Cup. The "Hand of God" goal was earlier in the game.

"This week, we lost a true footballing great. Diego Maradona was everything football should be: expressive, exciting, attacking and free," City manager Pep Guardiola said in the team's matchday program.

"A unique, once-in-a-generation player who brought joy to so many people," he added. "Football will never forget Diego."

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Across the world Saturday, teams paid tribute with moments of silence before European soccer games.

City and Burnley players warmed up to the song "Live is Life" by Austrian band Opus. That's the tune Maradona warmed up to before one of Napoli's UEFA matches in 1989. The players went through their usual routine as the Etihad Stadium loudspeakers played the song.

Led Napoli to pair of Serie A titles

Everton manager Carlo Ancelotti struggled to hold his emotions together. He made the sign of the cross and kissed his finger after a tribute before their match against Leeds. Ancelotti played against Maradona during their time in Serie A and later went on to manage Napoli.

Maradona led Napoli to its only two Serie A titles in 1987 and 1990 and is considered an icon in the southern city.

Tributes are ongoing across Serie A this weekend. The warmup song will also be broadcast in Italian stadiums.

All Serie A players were taking the field wearing a black armband, and a minute's silence was being observed before each kickoff, with players lined up around the centre circle.

The Italian league is also holding a minute's silence, projecting an image of Maradona on stadium screens, and highlighting the message "Ciao Diego" on the stands — which, like most stadiums in Europe, are empty because of coronavirus restrictions.

At the 10th minute of each Italian match, an image of Maradona was being projected again, in honour of his jersey number.

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