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Maradona improving, faces long hospital spell

In intensive care 2 days after falling ill with heart & breathing problems, Diego Maradona is stable, but still needs help breathing, doctors said.
PTI | By Simon Gardner (Reuters), Buenos Aires
UPDATED ON APR 21, 2004 12:57 PM IST

Soccer great Diego Maradona, still in intensive care on Tuesday two days after falling ill with heart and breathing problems, has improved slightly but still needs help to breathe, his doctors said.

"He is a little better than yesterday," family doctor Alfredo Cahe told reporters at the private Buenos Aires clinic where Maradona, one of the greatest and most controversial players in the sport's history, was taken on Sunday.

"He is stable, advancing step by step...it's very early, we are in a delicate situation," Cahe said.

But Cahe, who has shot down media reports that cocaine was responsible for Maradona's illness, added that the 43-year-old former Argentina captain faced a long spell in hospital.

"It will be a long time," he said.

"I would like to take this opportunity to ask for a little bit of respect (for Maradona's family)," he added, saying he had seen some "ugly" comments in the local media.

Dozens of admirers and a horde of media remained outside the Suizo-Argentina clinic on Tuesday evening, partially blocking one of the busiest throughfares an the upmarket Buenos Aires neighbourhood.

At one stage, the clinic issued a statement appealing for quiet out of consideration for the other 160 patients.

Fans had chanted Maradona's name while passing buses and cars had hooted their horns since his arrival.

Earlier, another of the medical team said that Maradona -- now a bloated figure almost unrecognisable from the man who inspired his country to World Cup success in 1986 -- still needed help breathing and had also developed pneumonia.

Maradona arrived at the clinic in a serious, feverish condition on Sunday with breathing difficulties and a swollen heart after watching his former club Boca Juniors play Nueva Chicago in the Argentine championship.

Maradona, who has been visiting a clinic in Cuba since 2000 where he has been undergoing treatment for drug use, arrived in Buenos Aires last month to visit his homeland for the first time in more than a year.

CROWD VIGIL

A crowd of admirers kept a vigil in the street outside the clinic.

"I just want him to recover," said 20-year-old law student Agustin Pellegrini, wearing a blue and yellow Boca tracksuit top. "He is the only person who has brought any happiness to the Argentine people in recent years. That's why I love him."

Rising to stardom from a Buenos Aires slum to lead Argentina to World Cup victory, Maradona's is the ultimate rags-to-riches story in this soccer-mad country and he has gained the status of the likes of Che Guevara -- whose image is tattooed on his arm -- and Evita Peron.

At the peak of his form, he led Argentina to a 3-2 triumph over West Germany in the 1986 World Cup final. In 1991 he failed a dope test for cocaine and was banned for 15 months.

He played in his fourth World Cup in the United States in 1994 but tested positive for a cocktail of drugs the day before he was due to make a record 22nd appearance.

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