Diego Maradona lifting the World Cup for Argentina in 1986 © Bob Thomas/Getty

Diego Maradona, the footballer who led Argentina to victory at the 1986 World Cup, has died at the age of 60, leaving the sport mourning an iconic player with few peers on the pitch but who struggled with addiction throughout his life.

The Argentine Football Association responded to the news on Wednesday by expressing “its deepest sorrow for the death of our legend, Diego Armando Maradona”, saying “you will always be in our hearts”.

Maradona had struggled with his health this year and was admitted to hospital for a brain clot in early November. Media reports suggest he died on Wednesday after a cardiac arrest.

He will be best remembered as a diminutive yet powerful player who captained Argentina to victory in the 1986 World Cup in Mexico.

During that tournament, in the quarter-final against England, he scored the opening goal with his hand in an incident he referred to as the “hand of god”. Later in the same match, he would weave through several flailing England defenders to score one of the greatest goals in the history of the competition.

Maradona smoking a Cuban cigar in the waters off Havana in 2000 © Alfredo Tedeschi/Reuters
Maradona is confronted by a phalanx of Belgium defenders during a match in the 1982 World Cup in Spain © Steve Powell /Allsport/Getty

Gary Lineker, the former England striker who played in that game, wrote on Twitter that Maradona was by “some distance the best player of my generation and arguably the greatest of all time. After a blessed but troubled life, hopefully he’ll finally find some comfort in the hands of God.”

Argentina went into mourning as news of the sudden death of a national icon shocked the country, even though Maradona’s poor health and struggles with addiction had long been a subject of intense media attention.

Although he embraced, and was embraced by, the political left around the region — Maradona even died on the anniversary of the death of one of the people he most admired, the late Cuban dictator Fidel Castro — Argentines of all political stripes were distraught by the news.

Social media was flooded with messages of sorrow and commemoration by Argentines from all walks of life, including from President Alberto Fernández, who declared three days of national mourning.

“You were the greatest of all. Thank you for having existed, Diego. We are going to miss you all of our lives,” Mr Fernández wrote on Twitter, posting a picture of himself in a smiling embrace with Maradona.

Maradona, who was born into poverty in the Lanús district of Buenos Aires, also captained his country at the 1990 World Cup in Italy, but the team narrowly lost in the final against West Germany.

At club level, he led Italy’s Napoli to their first Serie A league title in 1987, a remarkable feat as the team overcame the country’s northern heavyweights Juventus, Inter and AC Milan. He would go on to win Europe’s Uefa Cup and a second Italian league title with the club.

Maradona also played for Barcelona and Sevilla in Spain and Argentina’s Boca Juniors, among other clubs.

Off the pitch, well-documented problems with cocaine addiction and a playboy lifestyle led to a deterioration in his private life that eventually engulfed his career. He was sent home from the 1994 World Cup after failing a drugs test and continued to struggle with health issues and obesity long after retiring as a player in 1997.

Maradona was unable to recreate his footballing genius as a coach, with several unsuccessful stints as a manager, including leading Argentina to defeat against Germany in the quarter-finals of the 2010 World Cup.

Pelé, the former Brazil forward often cited alongside Maradona as the greatest ever footballer, wrote on Twitter: “I have lost a dear friend, and the world has lost a legend . . . One day, I hope, we will play soccer together in the sky.”

Lionel Messi, the Barcelona player and Argentina’s record goalscorer, wrote on social media: “A very sad day for all Argentines and football. He leaves us but does not leave, because Diego is eternal. I take all the beautiful moments lived with him and wanted to take advantage to send condolences to all his family and friends. RIP.”

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