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Maradona left breathless
- Rumour of drug overdose engulfs soccer great

Buenos Aires, April 19: The soccer genius who had taken the world’s breath away with his magical left foot 18 years ago was today unable to breathe on his own.

Diego Maradona is heavily sedated in intensive care following a crisis of hypertension or high blood pressure, his doctors said after the Argentine soccer great was taken ill and admitted to a clinic.

Maradona, who has long been in therapy to battle a drug addiction that has left him a bloated shadow of his former self, was breathing with the help of a respirator and his condition was “reserved”, the doctors said in a statement.

It means the doctors do not yet feel confident enough to proclaim him out of danger.

“Diego Armando Maradona has been admitted to intensive care... because of a crisis of hypertension…. He also had respiratory difficulties and so is aided by a respirator, as a result of which he is permanently sedated,” the statement said.

Maradona “is receiving medication to strengthen the heart”, and “the reaction to the medication has been favourable, and he is stabilised”.

His doctor, Alfredo Cahe, told reporters that Maradona’s reaction over the next 24-48 hours would be crucial to his recovery chances. Cahe refused to comment on media reports that the former soccer star had taken a cocaine overdose.

Television channel Todo Noticias said Maradona had taken ill after taking a drug overdose, quoting members of the player’s “intimate circle”.

Regarded as one of the finest players to have graced the game, possibly second only to Pele, Maradona led Argentina to World Cup victory in 1986. But, as with most of his troubled life, that tournament left a blot on his exceptional career when he fisted a ball into the net in a game against England. It became famous as the “Hand of God” goal.

Family, friends and well-wishers flooded to the Suizo-Argentina clinic as news of the 43-year-old’s condition spread.

Maradona’s father, Diego, his ex-wife, Claudia Villafane, and their two children, Dalma and Gianina, had been at the hospital. This heightened speculation about his condition.

One teary-eyed fan held aloft a photograph of Maradona in his soccer-playing prime. A banner read “Diego, Argentina loves you”, while passing cars honked their horns.

Maradona had earlier attended a soccer game at his former club Boca Junior’s stadium in the Argentine capital before being taken ill and whisked to the clinic in an ambulance in the second half of the match.

He has been battling drug addiction for years. He was suspended while playing in the Italian championship in the 1990s after testing positive for cocaine.

Maradona’s return to Argentina from Cuba on March 22 had prompted concern and speculation about his health because of the excess weight he has put on. Since January 2000, he has spent a lot of time in Cuba where he has already made attempts to kick his alleged drug habit.

His supporters are so fanatical that some 20,000 people as far afield as Vietnam and Iceland have become members of the “Church of Maradona”. He has also been honoured with a musical about the ups and downs of his turbulent rags-to-riches life.

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