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‘He only gave us joy’: Argentinians pay tribute to Diego Maradona – Al Jazeera English

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Buenos Aires, Argentina — Amid boisterous chants to send off a football legend who had departed too soon, Wilson Cisnero leaned against a brightly painted brick building that had a simple, small sign he had pasted on it. “God is with God,” he wrote, punctuated with the number 10.

The 25-year-old had cycled two kilometres (1.2 miles) to the famed Buenos Aires neighbourhood of La Boca because, like many others, he did not know where else to go to when he heard that Diego Maradona had passed away.

Crowds gathered outside La Bombonera, the home of Boca Juniors, one of Argentina’s most celebrated football clubs, that counted Maradona as its star once.

“Argentina is Maradona,” said Cisnero, his devastation clear through his glassy gaze. “You look at all this disgrace with coronavirus and now this other disgrace,” he lamented. “Now soccer is left without its God.”

Wilson Cisnero stands in front of a sign that says ‘God is with God’ in memory of Diego Maradona in Argentina [Natalie Alcoba/Al Jazeera]

That same pain was written all over the faces of Argentinians on Wednesday, as the nation came to grips with his unexpected death. To the world, he was Maradona. To Argentina, he was “El Diego” – a kid who sprouted from the slums, dazzled on the pitch like no other, dominated the sport and delivered World Cup glory that has yet to be repeated in Argentina.

Maradona suffered a cardiac arrest at his home, north of the capital of Buenos Aires, on Wednesday.  He had recently undergone brain surgery, pushing concerns over his health into the news. He was 60 years old.

“It’s something you can’t describe,” said Rafael Bellido, 49, sitting on the steps of La Bombonera, next to his partner Marcela Reynoso, as they shared mate, a traditional Argentine infusion. “El Diego was the person who represented us the best,” he said. “When he was playing, and you were watching, and you wanted to curse, he would curse. He reflected us. In addition to all the things that he did on the pitch.”

“Now is the time when Argentine society needs to give back all the joy that he gave to us,” he added. “And how long he made us happy. A long time. Every time he touched the pitch. You can’t describe it.”

Marcela Reynoso and Rafael Bellido mourn Diego Maradona in Argentina [Natalie Alcoba/Al Jazeera]

As tributes rolled in from around the world, President Alberto Fernandez declared three days of national mourning, cancelling all his engagements as the government prepared to host a wake at the presidential palace. The government is expecting a million people to pay their final respects. Government buildings will be lit up in the colours of the Argentinian flag in his honour.

In a statement, Fernandez said it was Argentinians’ good fortune to have been able to live through the era of Maradona, to have seen his greatness and enjoyed his affection.

“I doubt that we will ever see another player like Maradona in every way, not only because of his technical qualities, but also because of that courage, that strength, that grit, which he showed every time he put on the jersey he had to defend. An exceptional player who only gave us joy,” he said.

“Maradona was a genuine man, he defended what he believed in,” the president added. “He is a good example of what ordinary Argentines are, so visceral. Above all that, I always stressed that he was never a fraud – he said what he didn’t like.”

By mid-afternoon, hundreds of people had gathered at the foot of the Buenos Aires obelisk, singing Maradona’s praises as a giant banner displaying his face rippled in the wind. Outside La Bombonera, the crowds burst into intermittent song and dance.

“Diego isn’t dead, Diego isn’t dead, Diego lives in the village,” the crowd would chant. Everyone had their own story, their own reason for being there and what he meant to them. His incredible highs and the lows that he also lived through, were theirs, too.

“There will always be critics,” said Reynoso. “The important thing is that he found his own happiness.”

Diego Covelo marks a sign in memory of Diego Maradona in Argentina [Natalie Alcoba/Al Jazeera]

Diego Covelo, who counts himself as a member of the Maradoniana Church, founded by fans in 1988, pasted a poster of Maradona in his Boca Juniors jersey on the stadium’s exterior. He and a few friends had been holding vigil outside the clinic during the football legend’s recent admission to hospital.

“If we were there during the good times, of course we’ve got to be there during the bad times,” said Covelo, 35.

Josue Mustafa, 24, saw children playing football on his way to La Boca and thought to himself: “”That is Maradona’s legacy.

That’s going to stay with everyone – in the young ones, and in people who are older.”

Blanca Salursi, standing under a giant mural of El Diego in La Boca, remembered seeing him play as a youngster in one of Buenos Aires’ shanty towns

“I also came from the slums, you come up from the bottom,” said the 60-year-old. And with a twinkle in her teary eyes as she turned to leave, she said: “Don’t ever forget that he was the best there was.”

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Brooks’ milestone helps patchwork Maple Leafs pick up win over Oilers – Sportsnet.ca

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TORONTO — When Adam Brooks made his NHL debut under the roof at Madison Square Garden last season, he commemorated the achievement by getting linemate Jason Spezza to autograph a stick for him.

So you can imagine how thrilled the 24-year-old was Friday to have the veteran set up his first NHL goal. Never mind that it required a member’s bounce for the Toronto Maple Leafs inside Scotiabank Arena — with Spezza throwing a pass to the high slot on the power play and seeing it bounce in off Brooks’ right skate.

“It was a lot of fun, a great moment that I’ll remember forever obviously,” said Brooks. “To say that [Spezza] assisted on my first goal, a guy that’s played for that long and of that calibre, it’s a pretty cool moment for me.

“Just the whole thing was pretty exciting.”

It helped propel the Maple Leafs to a 4-2 victory over the Edmonton Oilers on a night where they played without Auston Matthews (upper body) and Joe Thornton (rib fracture), two-thirds of their No. 1 line as recently as 48 hours earlier.

Under these circumstances, goals were not going to be easy to come by.

There would have been no way to predict that Brooks would get on the board for Toronto this season before Spezza, Wayne Simmonds or Ilya Mikheyev found the back of the net. This was his first time playing in a game that counted since last February and he only had a few hours notice once it was confirmed that Matthews wasn’t able to go.

For the Leafs, that goal wiped away Edmonton’s 1-0 lead just 43 seconds after a Leon Draisaitl short-handed strike. For Brooks, it was a massive milestone on a professional journey that began when he was a fourth-round pick in 2016.

“I think there was a lot of pressure taken off me,” he said.

Some pressure was relieved for the entire team after the 3-1 loss to the Oilers earlier this week. We came into this two-game set expecting an offensive explosion and instead found two North Division combatants much more concerned about their own end of the rink.

Absent Matthews, in particular, the Leafs didn’t look nearly as imposing.

The injuries forced head coach Sheldon Keefe to rearrange all four of his lines and he found success with the Jimmy Vesey, Alexander Kerfoot and William Nylander trio. They enjoyed the better ice while largely matching up against Edmonton’s second line of Dominik Kahun-Draisaitl-Kailer Yamamoto, and saw Vesey score the 2-1 goal during a shift against Edmonton’s bottom six.

That came after Kerfoot, Vesey’s former teammate and linemate at Harvard, stole the puck from Adam Larsson beneath the goal-line and fed it to Nylander, who fooled Oilers goalie Mikko Koskinen by sliding it over.

“Kerf made a nice anticipation play and picked it off and found Willy, who made a great play to me,” said Vesey. “I think a lot of people thought he would have shot that puck but froze the goalie and slid it over. I just tried to bury it.”

The new-look line rebounded from a sputtering start to produce a sterling stat line with 88 per cent of the shot attempts, 86 per cent of the expected goals and a 5-0 advantage in shots during its nearly 10 minutes together at even strength.

“They skated well,” said Keefe. “It took them a little while to get going in the game, I thought, like it did our whole team. But they were on the puck, on the puck hard. I think what I liked mostly is that they scored us a 5-on-5 goal.

“Those have been hard to come by and it was good to get one.”

The other goals came from two usual suspects: John Tavares and Mitch Marner.

Tavares got the winner by tipping home a Marner shot after Connor McDavid had tied things up — giving the Leafs captain four power-play goals already on the season. Marner finished the job with an empty-netter.

It was a grind from start to finish, but there was satisfaction to be found in limiting the damage inflicted by McDavid and Draisaitl at even strength.

“Well I think it’s a good sign in seeing how much pride guys take in the defensive role and especially when you face two of the better players in the league,” said Leafs goalie Frederik Andersen. “It’s obviously a great task and it’s been great to see the team respond and really take that role seriously and not give them anything for free.”

It’s going to take everyone in a year this unusual.

Even players like Brooks, summoned off the taxi squad to play just his eighth career NHL game here. The Winnipegger helped add two points to the standings and claimed another souvenir in the process: The puck that pinballed off his skate and eluded Koskinen.

“I’m sure my parents will steal it and put it in their basement,” he said.

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Chiefs’ Patrick Mahomes says he’s cleared NFL’s concussion protocol – Sportsnet.ca

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes was cleared Friday from the league’s concussion protocol after his third consecutive day of practice and will be under centre when Kansas City plays the Buffalo Bills in the AFC championship game.

Mahomes was hurt in the third quarter of the Chiefs’ divisional-round win over Cleveland. He returned to take the majority of snaps in a light workout Wednesday, then did the same during the longest practice of the week Thursday, before team doctors and an independent neurologist gave him the green light following Friday’s workout.

“The week has been a bunch of testing, a bunch of different things, to make sure I’m good to go and there’s no lingering effects and things like that,” Mahomes said. “Everything has been good. I went through everything; three or four different doctors have said everything is looking good.”

The reigning Super Bowl MVP was hurt when he was tackled around the head by Browns linebacker Mack Wilson while running a quarterback option. It never appeared that Mahomes hit his head on the turf — and if he did, it was not the kind of impact that usually leads to a concussion — raising the possibility that he had actually compressed a nerve.

Either way, Mahomes immediately showed the symptoms of a concussion. He remained on the turf for a couple of minutes, then nearly collapsed when he got to his feet. He was still wobbly as trainers helped him to the sideline and into the blue injury tent, though he looked more steady when he ran into the locker room a few minutes later.

The Chiefs wasted little time ruling Mahomes out, though. Chad Henne wound up finishing off the 22-17 victory.

“We had an option play called we ran a little earlier,” Mahomes recalled Friday, “and I ran out to the right. I got hit. I tried to get up, felt my legs go out and knew that wasn’t a good thing.”

Still, Mahomes had enough wits about him to tell the trainers to let him remain on the turf so that Henne would have a chance to warm up — “because I knew we were going to go for it on fourth down,” Mahomes said.

“You want to be out there, but you have to go through the protocol and do everything the right way. You have to look at everything long term as much as short term,” said Mahomes, who signed a 10-year contract in the off-season that could pay him close to a half-billion dollars over the course of the deal. “We have the belief there will be no lingering effects and I’ll be able to go out there and be myself and be who I am every single week.”

Mahomes was second in the NFL with 4,740 yards passing this season, despite skipping the regular-season finale with the Chiefs already assured of the No. 1 seed and a first-round bye. The long layoff between Week 16 and last Sunday wasn’t a problem, either, as Mahomes threw for 255 yards with TDs running and passing before he was hurt.

He has 15 touchdowns, including three on the ground, without an interception in five post-season starts at home.

“I mean, he’s flying around as much as he can,” Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce said. “I know that guy is a tough son-of-a-gun, and he’s going to go out there and try to get ready the way he knows how, which is take every rep as if it’s a game rep. And his attention to detail, his preparation throughout the week, that hasn’t changed. Just him playing within the guidelines he was given knowing he’s in the concussion protocol.”

Mahomes also does not appear to be bothered by a toe injury he picked up against Cleveland. He acknowledged it was sore on Monday, but it has gotten progressively better throughout the week.

His injury status doesn’t just provide some clarity for the Chiefs, who otherwise would have started Henne with Matt Moore as the backup. It also provides some for oddsmakers and the gambling public. The opening line Sunday night varied widely depending on the sportsbook, with those confident Mahomes would play listing Kansas City as a 4-point favourite and those thinking he might not play giving the Bills a 2 1/2-point advantage.

The line had settled on the Chiefs as 3-point favourites by Friday afternoon.

NOTES: RB Clyde Edwards-Helaire (high-ankle sprain) also practice for the third straight day and appears likely to play for the first time since Week 15. CB Bashaud Breeland (concussion) is also likely to be cleared to play. … LB Willie Gay Jr. (high-ankle sprain) and RB Le’Veon Bell (swollen knee) were the only players that did not practice Friday.

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10 things: Raptors bounce back with suffocating defensive effort vs. Heat – Yahoo Canada Sports

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The Canadian Press

No Matthews, No Problem: Minus their star centre, Maple Leafs down Oilers 4-2

TORONTO — The Maple Leafs needed all hands on deck without two-thirds of their top line. Minus both Auston Matthews and Joe Thornton, Toronto didn’t miss a beat Friday. John Tavares scored the winner on a third-period power play and Frederik Andersen was stellar in making 30 saves as the Leafs picked up a 4-2 victory over the Edmonton Oilers. Adam Brooks, with his first in the NHL, Jimmy Vesey, and Mitch Marner, into an empty net, had the other goals for Toronto (4-2-0), which went 2 for 2 with the man advantage. William Nylander added a pair of assists, while Marner chipped in with one of his own. “A great effort by the group,” said Vesey, whose team lost 3-1 to the Oilers on Wednesday. “No Auston, no (Thornton). Guys came in and stepped up. “It was a gutsy effort. We didn’t like our game the other night.” Matthews is day-to-day with upper-body soreness, while Thornton will miss at least four weeks after fracturing a rib. “We’ve got to play a little bit differently,” Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe said. “The group’s really got to recognize the importance of every shift and how important it is to stay with the structure, stay with the plan. I thought we did that really well.” Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl replied for Edmonton (2-4-0), which got 25 stops from Mikko Koskinen. “A good offensive team, you give them a little sniff, they’re going to figure it out,” McDavid said. “We made one too many mistakes.” Down 2-1 through 40 minutes, the Oilers got even 50 seconds into the third when McDavid, who grew up just north of Toronto in Newmarket, Ont., scored his second-ever goal at Scotiabank Arena when he deftly tipped Ethan Bear’s point shot past Andersen for his fourth of the campaign. The Leafs got a power play midway through the period when Toronto’s new top line of Tavares, Marner and Zach Hyman started buzzing, with the latter forcing Koskinen to stretch for a great save. But the Edmonton goalie could do nothing on the Tavares winner — his fourth overall and second in as many games — at 11:46 on a redirection of Marner’s shot after making another terrific stop on Toronto’s captain moments earlier. Andersen shut the door from there before Marner iced it with his fourth into an empty net as Toronto held on for its fourth victory in six outings to open the abbreviated 56-game schedule. “To get a good, hard-fought win like that you need the whole group,” Tavares said. “We got a good bounce-back.” Most of the talk heading into the Leafs-Oilers showdown was about two offensive juggernauts, but despite all the star power, there was very little room at 5 on 5. “You get very familiar with your opponent, tendencies, adjustments that are being made game to game,” Tavares said of a season featuring division-only play. “Things might be a little tighter than people expected. “There’s a lot of respect on both sides knowing the capabilities.” Andersen, who recorded his 139th victory with Toronto to pass Curtis Joseph for fourth in franchise history, said it was a good sign the Leafs managed to limit McDavid and Draisaitl’s chances over the two games. “When you’re facing two of the better players in the league it’s a great task,” he said. “It’s been great to see the team respond and really take that role seriously, and not give them anything for free.” With the Leafs missing Matthews and Thornton, Keefe went back to 12 forwards and six defenceman after dressing an extra blue-liner the last two games. Brooks, Pierre Engvall and Alexander Barabanov drew in up front, while Mikko Lehtonen was scratched on the back end. The Leafs got a power play early in the second, but the Oilers grabbed a 1-0 lead at 5:12 when Kailer Yamamoto threw the puck in front where Draisaitl fished it out of Nylander’s skates and jammed home his second of the season. But Toronto got that one back on the same man advantage 43 seconds later when Jason Spezza fired a puck into the slot that glanced off Brooks and in for the Winnipeg native’s first NHL goal in his eighth appearance. “That was the first game I’ve played in like 330 days or something like that, so it’s been a long time,” said the 24-year-old, who was part of Toronto’s taxi squad before Friday. “It’s nice to get that bounce, and nice for it to come from a guy like Jason Spezza. “A great moment I’ll remember forever.” Andersen then made a good stop outwaiting Jesse Puljujarvi on a break before Toronto pushed in front at 11:16 when Alexander Kerfoot intercepted an Adam Larsson pass behind Edmonton’s net and quickly fed Nylander, who in turn patiently found Vesey to bury his second. “Those have been hard to come by,” Keefe said of scoring at 5 on 5. “It was good to get one.” Friday’s opening 20 minutes weren’t nearly as tight-checking as Wednesday’s chess match, with a couple of chances at either end. Yamamoto, who was credited with the opening goal two nights earlier after the Leafs flubbed the puck into their own net, forced a good stop out of Andersen less than 30 seconds in. Leafs winger Wayne Simmonds then had an opportunity denied by Koskinen from the slot. Edmonton’s Zack Kassian took a pass off the rush from McDavid that Andersen just got a piece of with the shaft of his stick. McDavid had another rebound effort denied by Andersen before Simmonds saw his redirection smothered by Koskinen. “Our best guys led us,” Keefe said. “Just a real good team win — which we knew going in it was going to have to be.” Notes: Toronto placed Thornton on long-term injured reserve, where he joined rookie winger Nick Roberston (knee). … Edmonton activated winger James Neal, who was previously on the NHL’s list of unavailable players due to COVID-19, off injured reserve for his first action of the season. … The Oilers now head to Winnipeg for two against the Jets beginning Sunday before hosting the Leafs for another two-game set starting Thursday. … Toronto opens a four-game Alberta road trip Sunday in Calgary against the Flames. This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 22, 2021. ___ Follow @JClipperton_CP on Twitter Joshua Clipperton, The Canadian Press

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