June 24, 2014 / 12:47 PM / 5 years ago

Fidel Castro praises Maradona, Messi

A picture of Cuba's former president Fidel Castro is seen at a store in Havana June 20, 2014. REUTERS/Enrique De La Osa

HAVANA (Reuters) - Former Cuban President Fidel Castro congratulated retired Argentine footballer Diego Maradona for his television program analysing the World Cup and also saluted current Argentine goal-scorer Lionel Messi for carrying on the glory for Argentina.

Castro’s written message was published late Monday in official Cuban media and served as a reminder that Cuba and Castro helped Maradona recover from substance abuse and a weight problem when he came to the island for help in 2000.

The retired revolutionary, better known as a baseball fan, also praised Maradona for his past support of Hugo Chavez, the former Venezuelan president and close Cuban ally who died of cancer in office in March 2013.

“Every day I have the pleasure of following your program, on Telesur, about the World Cup of football; thanks to that, I can observe the extraordinary level of that universal sport,” Castro wrote.

“Just as I salute you, I also salute Messi, a formidable athlete who gives glory to the noble Argentine people,” Castro wrote.

Maradona, who after straightening out his life in Cuba went on to coach the Argentine squad, is now serving as an analyst alongside journalist Victor Hugo Morales on the program De Zurda on Venezuela’s Telesur network, which airs in Cuba.

“Today I’m a politician, but as a child, an adolescent and a youth, I was an athlete, and I dedicated most of my free time to this noble practise,” wrote Castro, 87, who retired as leader of Cuba in 2008 after 49 years in power.

His younger brother Raul Castro, 83, is now president.

Fidel Castro occasionally publishes messages from retirement in the official media. He has also written opinion columns although none have appeared since last year.

Reporting by Daniel Trotta, Editing by Nigel Hunt

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