The death of soccer legend Diego Maradona has drawn an outpouring of shock and grief from the sports community and beyond in China, where the Argentine star was considered an inspiration for generations of soccer enthusiasts.

Maradona, who turned 60 on Oct 30, died of a heart attack at home in Buenos Aires on Wednesday while he was recovering from surgery to remove a blood clot from his brain earlier this month.

His death triggered widespread sorrow in China on Thursday, with fans, commentators and sports celebrities leaving emotional messages on the hashtag “Maradona has passed”. It had been viewed 1.3 billion times as of Thursday afternoon and stood among the top trending topics on the Chinese social media platform Weibo.

“As the best soccer player in the 20th century and a World Cup winner, Diego Maradona made a tremendous contribution to the world’s soccer development. He brought unforgettable memories to Chinese soccer fans,” the Chinese Football Association said in a statement released on Thursday.

“The death of Maradona brought huge sorrow to all who love the sport of soccer. High respect for Maradona and his glorious career.”

Regarded as one of the sport’s greatest players of all time, Maradona had a storied career. He was perhaps best remembered for twice scoring dramatically against England in the 1986 World Cup quarterfinal. The first of these was the controversial “Hand of God” goal, where he used his fist before improvising remarkable solo dribbling past multiple England defenders to find the net. He led Argentina all the way to win the coveted FIFA trophy.

Maradona also had a glittering club career, playing for clubs such as Barcelona in the Spanish La Liga, Napoli in the Italian Serie A and Boca Juniors in his native Argentine league.

He visited China for the first time in 1996 to play against Beijing Guoan for the Boca Juniors in an international friendly match that attracted tens of thousands of Chinese fans to watch him play at the Workers’ Stadium. In 2003, after his retirement, Maradona visited China a second time, having his photo taken on the Great Wall.

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