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Soccer-Messi, Blatter expected at Grondona wake

Reuters

By Luis Ampuero

BUENOS AIRES, July 31 (Reuters) - Argentina captain Lionel Messi and FIFA president Sepp Blatter are among leading figures in world soccer expected to attend the wake of former Argentine FA president Julio Grondona on Thursday.

Grondona, who was also world governing body FIFA's senior vice-president, died on Tuesday of heart failure aged 82 after 35 years at the helm of Argentine football which he ran in the style of "The Godfather" as his critics liked to call him.

Former national team coaches, club directors and political figures attended the wake at the AFA's national team training complex in Ezeiza on the outskirts of the capital.

"There will only ever be one Grondona. He was the most important director in the history of Argentine football," said former Boca Juniors chairman Mauricio Macri, now mayor of Buenos Aires city.

Boca great Juan Roman Riquelme, now back at his first club Argentinos Juniors, also paid his respects along with Alfio Basile, who coached Argentina to their last two major tiles, the Copa America in 1991 and 1993.

"We've come to greet the whole family. Julio always behaved great with us, he was a simple type, a man of the barrio. All he cared for apart from his family was football," Basile told reporters at the complex gates.

Luis Segura, who as AFA vice-president has taken charge until the organisation holds elections for a successor, said Grondona had been exhausted by the World Cup finals in Brazil, worn down by the tension of Argentina's chances of winning their third title.

"I think he came back very tired from the World Cup, it made him very tense. He had big hopes of achieving the championship," Segura said.

The dream fell a match short, Argentina losing the final to Germany 1-0 after extra time in Rio de Janeiro on July 13.

THREE FINALS

Grondona was AFA chief at three finals, all against the Germans, with Diego Maradona's team winning Argentina's second title in Mexico in 1986 before losing their crown at the last hurdle in Italy four years later.

Such was his influence in the game that Grondona, who took power in 1979, once called himself vice-president of the world. He was almost as powerful as the two FIFA chiefs he served, Joao Havelange and Blatter.

Grondona's legacy is the controversial new format for the Argentine first division championship from next year with 30 clubs, 10 of which will be promoted from the second-tier Primera B Nacional in December.

He was responsible for the creation in the early 1990s of two 19-match championships per season and relegation decided by teams' average points over three seasons, formats adopted by many other leagues in Latin America.

While he presided over an ever richer AFA, most recently thanks to a lucrative television deal brokered with the government in 2009, the country's clubs became poorer and depended on Grondona handouts to survive in some cases.

He never addressed the problem of growing barrabrava (hooligan) violence that has claimed several hundred lives with the government merely ordering superficial remedies like banning away fans with limited success.

There has never been national mourning for the victims while Grondona is getting what amounts to a state funeral.

(Writing by Rex Gowar, editing by Ed Osmond)

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