Davide Astori's funeral held as thousands gather in Florence

The funeral of Fiorentina captain Davide Astori was held in Florence on Thursday as thousands of mourners congregated outside the Basilica di Santa Croce to pay their final respects to the defender, who died on Sunday at the age of 31.

Representatives of all of Italy's Serie A clubs were in attendance, with Gianluigi Buffon, Andrea Barzagli, Giorgio Chiellini, Claudio Marchisio, Daniele Rugani, Mattia De Sciglio, Miralem Pjanic and coach Massimiliano Allegri arriving on a charter flight from London following Juventus' victory over Tottenham Hotspur in the Champions League on Wednesday night.

The coffin carrying Astori arrived at the Basilica shortly after 10 a.m. to applause from a packed Piazza and, after a delay caused by a member of the congregation falling ill inside the Basilica, it was carried through a guard of honour formed by children from the Serie A club's youngest teams.

There, a private service was held, with loudspeakers relaying the service, including eulogies by Astori's brother, Marco, and Fiorentina midfielder Milan Badelj, to those outside.

"I speak on behalf of the entire squad," Badelj said. "You were a real man. You always spoke with your heart, keeping us united -- inciting us older players and indicating the way to the youngsters. Your parents must know that they got nothing wrong. You would be a son or brother that every one of us would like to have if we could choose. You make us feel secure all the time and we will never forget your smile.

"You are football; pure football that kids play. Our thoughts are with your parents, your daughter. You are a man, with a capital 'M.' When you arrived in the physiotherapist's room in the morning, it was you who switched on the light because you are the light for all of us."

The service lasted about two hours. As soon as the coffin was brought back out, the people in the square again raised their scarves, sang the Fiorentina anthem and chanted Astori's name and "there's only one captain."

Astori's mother blew a kiss to the crowd, and the people of Florence were also thanked by Marco Astori in his eulogy.

Former Fiorentina forward Gabriel Batistuta was not in attendance, but he sent a message via ANSA, the Italian news agency, expressing his shock at Astori's death.

"I'm on the other side of the world, but I would like to be in Florence for the final farewell to Davide, together with my people," Batistuta wrote. "When the terrible news of the death of our captain arrived, I had the same reaction you all did: I was shocked, without words. There's never an answer to death, but this time it was crazy.

"A footballer who dies in his sleep -- it's something incredible, inexplicable and unacceptable. It's a trauma which hits a community, in particular our world. I didn't know Davide personally, but my Fiorentina friends had always drawn a splendid picture of him.

"Fiorentina were right to give the captain's armband to Davide because first and foremost he was a real man. I always thought that the history of the Viola had just one captain, my fraternal friend Giancarlo Antognoni, but from now on, there will always be two of them."

Chiellini also spoke about Astori after Juve's Champions League victory.

"[Thursday] will be an even harder day for us, as we will go to say goodbye to our friend, who has passed away -- a teammate we spent time with," he told Mediaset. "Life goes on for us, but we have lots of thoughts and when you close your eyes, you see his daughter and think of what has happened and it's very hard to accept.

"It would not be enough to dedicate this win to him, because this win is nothing. I just hope one thing: that we can carry on what Davide was for us, and that smile he had every day."

Thousands of mourners visited a room of remembrance at the Italy FA's technical centre in Coverciano, where Astori's body rested on Wednesday, with Roma and Italy midfielder Daniele De Rossi one of the first to arrive.

Astori's body will be transferred to his birth town of San Pellegrino Terme, where he will be laid to rest on Friday.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.