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Soccer legend Maradona mourns "second father" Castro

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LIMA, Nov 26 (Reuters) - For soccer great Diego Maradona, Cuban revolutionary Fidel Castro was more than a friend and fellow Latin American legend, he was "a second father."

Maradona said Castro's death late on Friday hit him like a tennis ball to the chest served by Juan Martin del Potro, the Argentine player he cheered on in the Davis Cup final where he received the news.

"I wept uncontrollably," Maradona told reporters on the sidelines of the tennis tournament. "After my father, it's the deepest sorrow I know."

PHOTOS: A look at their friendship

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Former Cuban leader Fidel Castro meets former Argentine soccer player Diego Armando Maradona in Havana April 13, 2013, in this picture released by Cuban website Cubadebate on April 15, 2013. Picture taken April 13, 2013. REUTERS/Courtesy of Cubadebate/Handout (CUBA - Tags: POLITICS SPORT) ATTENTION EDITORS - FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS. THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. IT IS DISTRIBUTED, EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY REUTERS, AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS
Cuban leader Fidel Castro (C) speaks with Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez (R) and former Argentine soccer player Diego Maradona during a meeting in Havana in this handout photo taken July 23, 2011. REUTERS/Revolution Studios/Handout (CUBA - Tags: POLITICS SPORT) FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS. THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. IT IS DISTRIBUTED, EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY REUTERS, AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS
Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez (R) and former Argentine soccer player Diego Maradona (L) bump fists next to former Cuban leader Fidel Castro (C) during a meeting in Havana July 23, 2011. REUTERS/Revolution Studios/Handout (CUBA - Tags: POLITICS SPORT SOCCER IMAGES OF THE DAY) FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS. THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. IT IS DISTRIBUTED, EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY REUTERS, AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS
Argentina's soccer team head coach Diego Maradona (L) along with veteran communist leader and former chief minister of India's West Bengal states Jyoti Basu look at a photo album of Fidel Castro's visit to the eastern Indian city of Kolkata December 7, 2008. Maradona, who led Argentina to the 1986 World Cup triumph and took charge as national coach last month, told a news conference he was confident his team would shine in the 2010 finals in South Africa. REUTERS/Stringer (INDIA)
Former Argentine soccer player Diego Maradona (L) and Cuban President Fidel Castro smile after appearing together on a live television broadcast in Havana, October 27, 2005. [Maradona was in Havana to interview Castro for his weekly television show in Argentina and promised President Castro he would be at the front of an anti-Bush march in Argentina next week.]
Former Argentine soccer player Diego Maradona smiles while appearing on a live television broadcast along with Cuban President Fidel Castro in Havana, October 27, 2005. The football legend is back in Cuba with a team of producers to interview the Cuban leader. The man once hailed as the greatest player of his generation looks upon 79-year-old Castro as a friend and father figure who helped him kick drugs. REUTERS/Ismael Francisco-AIN/Handout
Cuban President Fidel Castro (L) and Argentine soccer legend Diego Maradona play with a ball during an interview in La Havana, October 26, 2005. Maradona was in Havana to interview Castro for his weekly television show in Argentina, to be aired tonight, and promised President Castro he would be at the front of an anti-Bush march in Argentina next week. Photo taken October 26, 2005. REUTERS/Canal 13/Handout Pictures of the month October 2005
Former Argentine soccer player Diego Maradona (L) talks to Cuban President Fidel Castro before a live "The Round Table" news show in Havana, October 27, 2005. The football legend is back in Cuba with a team of producers to interview the Cuban leader. The man once hailed as the greatest player of his generation looks upon 79-year-old Castro as a friend and father figure who helped him kick [drugs].
Argentine soccer legend Diego Maradona (L), then in Cuba undergoing rehabilitation for cocaine abuse, shows Cuban President Fidel Castro a tattoo of him on his leg, inside the Revolution Palace in Havana, in this file photo from October 29, 2001. Maradona remained in intensive care in a Buenos Aires hospital early April 20, 2004, more than 36 hours after falling ill with heart and breathing problems while watching a game at his former club Boca Juniors' stadium where he made his name. REUTERS/staff RR/HB
Argentine soccer idol Diego Armando Maradona (R) and Cuban President Fidel Castro raise their arms for a welcome hug in this video frame during a meeting at the Revolution Palace in Havana, October 29, 2001. Maradona, who is recovering from heart and breathing problems in a Buenos Aires hospital, moved to Cuba in 2000 to undergo rehabilitation from cocaine abuse, courtesy of Fidel Castro. While Maradona may not have beaten his drug habit, he did find refuge in Cuba from worshipping fans, paparazzi cameras and scandal surrounding the end of his career. IMAGE FROM OCTOBER 29, 2001 REUTERS/Reuters TV CD
Argentine soccer idol Diego Armando Maradona (L) kisses the hand of Cuban President Fidel Castro (R) in this video frame after a meeting at the Revolution Palace in Havana, October 29, 2001. Maradona, who is recovering from heart and breathing problems in a Buenos Aires hospital, moved to Cuba in 2000 to undergo rehabilitation from cocaine abuse, courtesy of Fidel Castro. While Maradona may not have beaten his drug habit, he did find refuge in Cuba from worshipping fans, paparazzi cameras and scandal surrounding the end of his career. IMAGE FROM OCTOBER 29, 2001 REUTERS/Reuters TV CD
Argentine soccer ace Diego Maradona, trains May 10 in a Havana gym prior to his trip to Munich to play in German star Lotthar Matthaeus' testimonial game May 26. Maradona has been in Cuba since mid-January, at President Fidel Castro's personal invitation, to receive free treatment for grave heart problems caused by drugs and alcohol. AC/JP
Cuban President Fidel Castro poses with Argentine soccer star Diego Maradona, his wife Claudia Villafane and their two children, during a visit to the Revolution Palace December 30
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The two controversial figures first met in 1987, a year after Maradona helped Argentina win the World Cup in Mexico and four years before the fall of the Soviet Union that would usher in a new era of economic hardship in the communist island.

An unlikely friendship between the often outlandish footballer and the well-read revolutionary deepened at the start of the century when Maradona spent four years in Havana to shake an addiction to drugs.

Cuba has strict penalties for drug possession and is known in the region for deploying doctors and humanitarian aide to countries in need.

"He opened Cuba's doors to me when clinics in Argentina were slamming them shut because they didn't want the death of Maradona on their hands," Maradona said.

Castro often called on Maradona early in the morning to talk about politics or sports and to encourage him to push forward toward a full recovery, Maradona said.

"He said I could do it and I did it. And here I am, talking about him," Maradona said, his voice breaking. "That's the best memory I have of him."

Maradona, the son of a factory worker raised in a shantytown on the outskirts of Buenos Aires, was one of several leftist celebrity admirers of Castro who lent him broader international appeal.

In 2005, Maradona interviewed Castro on his Argentine TV show, asking how George W. Bush had been re-elected president of the United States, to which Castro responded: "Fraud. The terrorist mafia of Miami!"

PHOTOS: Fidel Castro through the years

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Fidel Castro's life in photos
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Fidel Castro's life in photos
Pope Francis (L) and former Cuban President Fidel Castro hold hands in Havana, Cuba, September 20, 2015. Picture taken September 20. REUTERS/Alex Castro/AIN/Handout via Reuters ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. REUTERS IS UNABLE TO INDEPENDENTLY VERIFY THE AUTHENTICITY, CONTENT, LOCATION OR DATE OF THIS IMAGE. IT IS DISTRIBUTED EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY REUTERS, AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS. FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS.
Former Cuban president Fidel Castro and Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill meet in Havana February 13, 2016. REUTERS/JUVENTUD REBELDE/Handout via Reuters ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS PICTURE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. REUTERS IS UNABLE TO INDEPENDENTLY VERIFY THE AUTHENTICITY, CONTENT, LOCATION OR DATE OF THIS IMAGE. THIS PICTURE IS DISTRIBUTED EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY REUTERS, AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS. FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS.NO RESALES. NO ARCHIVE TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
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Thousands from the Cuban exile community that Castro reviled poured into the streets of Miami's Little Havana Saturday to mark the death of a man they considered a dictator.

Last year Maradona, who has Castro's face tattooed on his calf, quashed rumors that Castro was dead by waving a letter from him in front of reporters.

Now that his death is real, Maradona said he would travel to Havana to take part in ceremonies paying homage to his friend. (Reporting by Maximiliano Rizzi; Additional reporting and writing by Mitra Taj; Editing by Jonathan Oatis)

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