Maradona gets rousing welcome in India

KOLKATA: Soccer superstar Diego Maradona said Saturday he was greatly touched by the frenzy over his brief visit here and promised to come back to India again in future.

"It has been beyond my imagination," a visibly moved Maradona told reporters through an interpretor.

"I did not know that I had so many fans in India and people of the country loved football so much," he said after laying the foundation stone for a football academy on the outskirts of the city.

"India lacks the infrastructure for football but the players should also work hard for their success."

The Indians rank a lowly 144th in world football with cricket being the most popular sport.

Maradona, on his first-ever visit to the country, rated his ''Hand of God'' goal in the 1986 World Cup as his best moment of his life.

The Argentinean famously punched the ball into the net for the opening goal of a 2-1 quarterfinal victory against England, leading to his instant glory back home and vilification by English fans.

Maradona, recently appointed as coach of Argentina, said he was already looking forward to visiting India again.

"I have a contract with Argentina''s national football team and once it''s over I will think of coming to India."

Maradona, 48, arrived in this football-mad eastern Indian city early on Saturday to a rousing welcome by some 50,000 fans, desperate to catch a glimpse of the legend.

The fans jostled and almost ran over the barricades at the Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose airport as the 5,000-strong security team tried to control the surging crowd.