The death in a plane crash of Cardiff City striker Emiliano Sala was a cruel blow to family, friends and supporters in his home village in Argentina, and on Saturday they came, grieving, from miles around to pay their respects.

Through the morning, mourners gathered for a public vigil in a gymnasium in Progreso, the small farming town in Santa Fe province which Sala left as a teenager to play in Europe.

He was "loved and admired by all," a restaurant owner told AFP. Sala would come home on breaks and would never fail to kick the ball around with village youngsters, they said. Unlike some soccer stars, he would keep a low profile, not flaunting his new wealth.

As his heartbroken father, mother and sister watched on Saturday, a giant poster of the 28-year-old hung behind his coffin, which was draped in the red and white colors of the San Martin de Progreso club where he began his career.

Sala's father, Horacio, was devastated by his son's death, family members said, and refused for days to leave his home.

Outside the club, which was at the center of the day's commemorations, was a banner reading: "Emi, you will never walk alone."

"He represented a lot for us," the club's president, Daniel Ribero, told AFP. "We're a small village and Emi was a celebrity, the only player to turn professional.

"He was one of us. He meant a lot to us."

More than 3,000 mourners came to pay respects.

"We all carry Emi in our hearts," said Mayor Julio Muller in an emotional tribute.

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