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Thousands of football fans, including King Felipe VI, throng to pay respects to Di Stefano

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MADRID - Thousands of football fan queued for hours in midsummer heat on Tuesday to pay their respects and mourn the death of Real Madrid great Alfredo Di Stefano.

Queues several hundred yards (meters) long formed around the Santiago Bernabeu Stadium before doors opened at 10:30 a.m. to allow mourners to file past Di Stefano's casket, that was draped in club colours.

The line was still almost as long at 8 p.m., an hour before the impromptu chapel-of-rest was due to close, when King Felipe VI arrived to honour the memory of the club's greatest player.

"He was an unrepeatable and unique figure in world football — and an extraordinary personality," said Felipe, adding that he had always admired Di Stefano.

The king greeted, shook hands with, and spoke to dozens of mourners in the queue as he arrived, and again when he left.

Di Stefano, who helped shape and cement Madrid's reputation as the most successful club in European football, died on Monday aged 88, two days after suffering heart failure in a street near the stadium.

Renowned for his speed, versatility and strategic grasp of the game, Di Stefano helped Madrid attain five straight European Champions Cups and was voted European player of the year twice.

Among sports personalities who visited was club goalkeeper and Spain captain Iker Casillas. Former Madrid player Paco Gento, 80, who played alongside Di Stefano during his 1953-1971 spell at the club, said the Argentine was the most complete player he had ever known. "Everything he did was great, the club owes him a lot," Gento said.

Johan Cruyff was among dozens of sports personalities to express admiration for Di Stefano.

"He was my idol," Cruyff said in a radio interview on Cadena Cope. "He was a player who was everywhere; he played in defence, as a midfielder, and up front, scoring goals."

Fans jotted down condolences on a white board provided by the club. "Thanks for your football, thank you for making this club great," one entry said. "As a child I wanted to be like you. That was impossible. I am 65 years old and you'll always be in my heart," another said.

Among the mourners was restaurant waiter Felipe Escobedo. "He came into my place of work twice and was just a nice, regular guy, so unlike many so-called stars today," he said.

In a career spanning five clubs in three countries — Argentina, Colombia and Spain — from 1945-1966, Di Stefano scored 789 goals in 1,090 matches.

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