HAVANA, Dec. 2 (Xinhua) -- Retired Argentinean football legend Diego Maradona arrived in Cuba on Friday for Fidel Castro's funeral services, saying the revolutionary leader was "like a father to me."
After landing at Havana's Jose Marti International Airport, Maradona told Cuban TV, "the greatest of them has gone."
However, he added, "those who think Cuba is weaker because the greatest has gone, are mistaken."
"He left us such a clear legacy, so clear and so beautiful that we cannot betray him," said Maradona.
The former star player and coach, now 56, plans to attend Sunday's ceremony in eastern Santiago de Cuba, where Castro's ashes are to be interred alongside Jose Marti and other national heroes at the Santa Ifigenia Cemetery.
Castro passed away on Nov. 25 at the age of 90, ushering in nine days of national mourning.
His ashes are currently traveling cross-country to give Cubans the opportunity to pay their last respects to their beloved comandante.
In the city of Camaguey, thousands of people, many waving Cuban flags, lined both sides of the street and stood along rooftops as the motorized funeral procession passed through late Thursday afternoon.
Maradona and Castro mutually admired each other and developed a friendship starting in 1987, when the Cuban leader invited the footballer to Cuba to present him with an award.
Over the past 10 years, Maradona would frequently travel to Cuba, where he was being treated at a drug rehabilitation clinic in Havana.
The two met on several occasions, and Maradona even interviewed Castro for his TV show "De Zurda," a reference to his left-footed playing.
The footballer has a large tattoo of Castro on his leg, and one of fellow revolutionaries Che Guevara on his arm.
In 2011, Maradona said, "He is the only politician I respect, because he risked his life. He is the father of all of the revolutions launched by people who want to improve their lives."