BUENOS AIRES (Reuters) – Hundreds of thousands – by some estimates – of ecstatic Argentines took to the streets of Buenos Aires on Tuesday to cheer on Lionel Messi’s World Cup-winning side after their plane landed in the Argentine capital. hours before dawn.
The team arrived in the wee hours of the morning at Ezeiza Airport, where thousands had been waiting, although it was almost 3am (0600 GMT), carrying banners, flags and flares, shouting joy after 36 years since the country’s last World Cup victory.
By midday, hundreds of thousands of people had gathered in downtown Buenos Aires, with major roads closed to hosting the parade. People carried banners of Messi and the late icon Diego Maradona, played instruments, or climbed lampposts or bus stops.
“It’s crazy, it’s unbelievable, it’s the best thing that can happen to you in life,” said Matias Gomez, a 25-year-old metalworker.
“It is such a joy to see all these happy people, all together, one with the other, holding hands, hugging each other, kissing each other. We are all one today.”
The Argentine capital has been in celebratory mode since its dramatic victory over France in Sunday’s final in Qatar, helping to mask the economic woes of the South American country which is grappling with one of the world’s highest rates of inflation.
The victory, on penalties after an intense match, made the country world champions for the first time since Diego Maradona lifted the trophy in 1986 and their third in total. The government made Tuesday a national holiday to allow fans to celebrate the victory.
The players, after spending a few hours at the Argentine Football Association’s facilities near the airport, left in an open-top bus with signs saying “Champions of the World” and three stars to celebrate the country’s treble championship.
The players danced and cheered with the fans who gathered around the bus. The police had to hold people back to allow the vehicle to proceed on its slow journey towards the city centre.
Earlier Messi, 35, who is cementing his reputation as one of the world’s greatest players, sent a message on Instagram saying “Good morning!” With a picture of him sleeping in his room at the AFA complex next to the Gold Cup.
Messi said the final – where Argentina beat France 4-2 on penalties after an impressive 3-3 draw after extra time – would be his last World Cup, although he plans to make some appearances for the national team.
Sometimes it felt like the whole country was celebrating all night from Sunday onwards in the Southern Hemisphere summer, the joy of victory hitting everyone with cars honking their horns regularly in celebration.
“Albiceleste,” Elio Mesaris, 25, said as he celebrated in the city where everyone and everything was covered in white and blue.
“Just look at all this,” he said, “look at all that is painted bright blue and white. Along the roads and highways, all the people are heading towards Argentina.”
“It’s really impressive, it’s unique, what a way to cry. I cried this morning, yesterday, the day before yesterday. I can’t cry anymore, it’s unbelievable!”
Additional reporting by Nicholas Mesculin and Miguel Lo Bianco; Additional reporting by Adi Nair in Bengaluru. Edited by Peter Rutherford
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