MADRID (Reuters) - Spanish football has been stunned by the death on Tuesday of Sevilla’s 22-year-old midfielder Antonio Puerta, one of the country’s most promising young players.
The Spanish international collapsed during a Primera Liga match against Getafe on Saturday and had been in a critical condition in hospital ever since.
“He was a magnificent footballer and had a great sporting future,” former Sevilla coach Joaquin Caparros, now of Athletic Bilbao, told Radio Marca.
The dramatic pictures of Puerta’s collapse were flashed around the country and his predicament, with daily medical updates, has dominated the news cycles.
A round-the-clock vigil of fans was conducted at the Virgen del Rocio hospital and a steady stream of visitors from the world of football went to see him.
City rivals Real Betis were among the first to arrive, with other visitors including former team mates Sergio Ramos of Real Madrid and Jose Antonio Reyes of Atletico.
Thousands of email messages of support were sent to the club with many posted on the club’s Web site.
Sevilla have always had a prickly relationship with Betis, which makes the words of their eccentric major-shareholder Manuel Ruiz de Lopera all the more touching.
“This has been a huge blow for the whole of Seville, and completely unexpected,” Lopera told Radio Marca. “It is important to see the rivalry counts for nothing, and that we are all affected,” he said.
“My thoughts are with him, his family and Sevilla. Betis will always stand by Sevilla.”
Puerta was a product of Sevilla’s acclaimed youth system, breaking into the side in the 2004-5 season before becoming a regular the following year as a versatile left sided player who could play as a wing back or midfielder.
He became a hero to Sevilla fans for the spectacular goal he scored against Schalke 04 that secured their place in the UEFA Cup final for the first time in April 2006.
Neither side had managed to score in 180 minutes of football but 11 minutes into extra time at the Sanchez Pizjuan, Puerta drilled a curling shot inside the far post with the outside of his left foot to settle the tie.
Sevilla went on to win the final against Middlesbrough 4-0 and retained the trophy in a penalty shootout against Espanyol last season. He also helped them win the King’s Cup in June.
Puerta made his debut for Spain in October last year, in a 2-0 loss to Sweden in a Euro 2008 qualifier.
Although he only had one cap he was considered one of the players for the future on the international scene, and had already caught the eye of a number of Europe’s top clubs.
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