Argentine chief Julio Grondona dies
BUENOS AIRES, Argentina -- South American soccer officials say that Julio Grondona, the longtime head of the Argentina Football Association, has died. He was 82.
- Kelly: Grondona's legacy
The announcement was made on Wednesday by the South American soccer confederation, CONMEBOL.
Grondona, a powerful ally of FIFA President Sepp Blatter, had been hospitalized earlier on Wednesday. Grondona, who was known as "The Godfather," had been the AFA's president since 1979. He was also a FIFA senior vice president and head of FIFA's finance committee, although had announced that we would step down from his posts in 2015.
Blatter responded to the death almost immediately with a tweet: "Very sad for the loss of a great friend. Julio Grondona has left us at 82. Rest in peace."
Lionel Messi wrote on his Facebook page: "Really sad day for the football community, for Argentina and for me. Our AFA President, Julio Grondona, has left us. I want to send my condolences to the family and friends of the beloved."
Grondona attended the World Cup final three weeks ago when, Argentina lost 1-0 to Germany at the Maracana stadium in Rio de Janeiro. He mingled in the stands with other top football officials before the match.
With Grondona in charge, Argentina won the World Cup in 1986 and lost the final in 1990 and 2014. But he has never been far from controversy.
Critics blamed him for the endemic fan violence in Argentine football, where every club match faces the threat of violence by hooligan groups. Grondona said the problem simply reflected the growing violence on the streets of the country. He was also heavily criticized by former national coach and retired star Diego Maradona, who blamed Grondona for many of the festering problems in the national game.
Grondona hired Maradona as the national team coach and then dismissed him after Argentina lost in the quarterfinals of the 2010 World Cup. During the 2014 tournament, Maradona responded to being called a "bad luck charm" by Grondona by showing him the middle finger on live TV.
A son, Humberto, was questioned by FIFA during the World Cup in Brazil, amid media reports that he had sold some tickets for profit. FIFA said later that he "most probably" gave tickets to a friend and did not sell them.