Church of Maradona celebrates idol's birthday

Buenos Aires, Argentina - It was a glorious day in the Church of Maradona.

Not only was it Diego Maradona's 48th birthday on Wednesday, but authorities announced that their soccer idol will be Argentina's national team coach.

"We will once again be champions," chanted Church of Maradona faithful gathered in Buenos Aires late Wednesday to ring in the year D.D. 48 - for "Despues de Diego," or "After Diego" in English.

Nearly 300 members of the mock soccer church held processions to their idol with relics that included a soccer ball with a crown of thorns and an oversized rosary with 34 beads - the number of goals Maradona scored for Argentina's national team.

"It's in each and every one of us to believe in Maradona," said 28-year-old church member David Orlando.

Maradona, who will be confirmed as national coach next Tuesday, called his fans to thank them for the festivities, promising he would have a successful run as national coach.

"God will be with us again and He will give us another victory like in 1986," when Argentina won the World Cup, Maradona said on speaker phone to the raucous crowd.

Maradona debuted with the national team in 1977 and went on to score two of the World Cup's greatest goals against England and Belgium on the way to Argentina's 1986 World Cup win. He also led Argentina to the 1990 World Cup final.

Some critics have said Maradona may not make a good coach. But church members brush aside these doubts as a lack of faith in the god of Argentine soccer, or D10S as they call him. "Dios" is Spanish for "god" and 10 was his jersey number.

The Church of Maradona was founded by a group of friends in the Argentine port city of Rosario 10 years ago, and has swelled to more than 120,000 members around the world.

Members honor June 22, 1986 - when Maradona punched the ball into England's net with his hand in a disputed play he called "the Hand of God" - as the church's Easter.

But founder Marcela Amez is quick to caution they don't "actually think it's a real church."

And church members are well aware of their god's human frailties. Maradona has battled drug addiction and obesity, been kicked out of the World Cup for doping and sentenced to jail for shooting an air gun at reporters.