The streets of Lionel Messi’s hometown of Rosario erupted in celebration after Argentina beat France to win their third World Cup title.
“We’re champions, which is all we wanted, more than anything for (Messi) and for the whole team,” Santiago Ferraris, 25, said.
Argentina’s three goals in the 3-3 draw were scored by Rosario natives, with Messi, who came up from local team Newell’s Old Boys, scoring two and Angel Di Maria, who once played in rival local team Rosario Central, one.
Rosario, just like the rest of the country, was paralysed during the nail-biting match that ended in a penalty shootout, which Argentina won 4-2.
Tens of thousands of people descended on the National Flag Memorial, the symbol of Argentina’s third-largest city, to celebrate Argentina’s victory. People started arriving as soon as Messi lifted the trophy and were still there well into the evening.
The local soccer rivalry between Central and Newell’s was set aside Sunday as seemingly the entire city celebrated the national team’s victory.
“It’s madness. It surpassed my expectations with so many people on the same wavelength, everyone celebrating. That’s what’s most beautiful about today,” said Jeremias Regolo, 26, who joined the celebrations at the National Flag Memorial.
Micaela Junco, 28, said the victory felt special to her because it was the first World Cup title in her lifetime. The last time Argentina won the tournament was in 1986.
“It’s an incredible feeling for Argentina to win, for all of us to be pulling in the same direction,” Junco said.
“Being the best in the world is priceless.”
Junco felt “proud” of the key roles Di Maria and Messi played in the match “because they are from Rosario. We have the best players here in Rosario.”
Fans also took from how the triumph gave the country a respite from its usual worries at a time when it is suffering one of the world’s highest inflation rates, of almost 100 per cent annually.
“Argentina deserved this happiness, beyond everything bad that is happening in the country,” Rodrigo Medina, 21, said.
“The Rosario boys have always shown they’re up to the challenge.”
The scene was not much different in Buenos Aires. Hundreds of thousands of Argentines poured into the sunlit streets on Sunday, ecstatic in triumph.
“I can’t believe it! It was difficult, but we did it, thanks to Messi,” said Santiago, 13, celebrating the victory with his family in front of the Buenos Aires house that had belonged to late soccer icon Diego Maradona, who led the team in 1986.
Bearing flags, hats and the country’s iconic blueand-white jerseys, Argentines took over Buenos Aires’ downtown and other iconic spots within minutes after the win. Across the country, other celebrations broke out.
“It was an incredible game, at times anguishing,” said 46-year-old Diego Aburgeily, who cheered on the national side from the suburbs of Buenos Aires. “This team made people fall in love with them for the first time in decades.”
“We could have won it comfortably, but we were forced to suffer, like always,” said Rogelio Vazquez, an Argentine fan. “But the suffering makes the win all the more enjoyable.”
Nerves were running high as the two teams took to penalty kicks after extra time. Messi easily scored for Argentina, followed by a goal from France’s Kylian Mbappe. Two more goals from Argentina and two unsuccessful shots from France meant the next goal would finish the game.
Some Argentines hung their heads, others prayed. The final penalty kick from Argentina’s Gonzalo Montiel caused the ball to sail neatly into the net.
Shouting, jumping and spraying their drinks into the air, incredulous Argentines erupted in cheers as the team clinched the win. Some, hugging friends and family, were even brought to tears.
“Dibu (Martinez), Messi, the whole team, I love them,” said Jonathan Heredia, his voice hoarse from cheering. “I feel like they made me cry, I wanted this more than anything.”
Huge crowds surrounded the Obelisco monument in the centre of Buenos Aires, like they had done after the semi-final win over Croatia. Other fans leaned out of the side of cars waving flags and jerseys as they rode through the streets.
“It is an immense joy after so much tension,” Nicolas Piry, a 46-year-old lawyer, said.
“The harmony between the team, headed by a leader who plays at a level making him the best in the world, and the players’ condition in general led us to this well-deserved success. Let’s go Argentina!” he added.
The final win cements Messi’s status as a legend among Argentines.