Tuesday, December 20, 2022
Thousands of ecstatic fans gave Argentina's football squad a hero's welcome in Buenos Aires in the early hours before dawn on Tuesday after the plane carrying Lionel Messi and his World Cup-winning team mates touched down at Ezeiza airport.
The Argentine capital has been in party mode since their dramatic victory over France in Sunday's final in Qatar, which gave the country its first World Cup win since Diego Maradona hoisted the trophy 36 years ago.
The players, wearing their gold winners' medals around their necks and taking turns to hold the World Cup trophy aloft, waved at fans from an open-top bus as the lights from thousands of mobile phones sparkled and flags fluttered in the crowd.
Joyous fans sang to the beat of a drum and fireworks lit up the sky as the bus slowly wound its way through the crowd.
Thousands had tracked the plane, the state airline Aerolineas Argentinas AR1915, all the way from Doha and a stop-off in Rome.
The players are expected to spend a few hours at the Argentine Football Association (AFA) facilities near the airport before heading at noon to the huge Obeliso monument in the centre of town, where hundreds of thousands are likely to gather.
Argentina beat France 4-2 on penalties after a scintilaing 3-3 draw, with Messi scoring twice France's Kylian Mbappe netting three times.
Messi, 35, announced that the final would be his last match in the World Cup though he intends to play a few more games for the national side.
Argentina manager Lionel Scaloni said that he will keep Messi's jersey ready in case the talismanic captain wishes to play at the next World Cup after he ended the country's 36-year wait to hoist the golden trophy again.
On a night of high drama, Messi scored two goals and again in the shootout as he led Argentina to an emotional 4-2 win on penalties over France on Sunday, with the match ending in a 3-3 draw following 120 minutes of breathtaking action.
After finally fulfilling a lifelong dream by lifting the ultimate prize in world soccer, many thought the 35-year-old Messi may never again come out wearing the famed blue and white stripes of Argentina. But within a few moments, Messi declared that he does not plan to retire from international duty in near future.
It was a decision welcomed by his coach.
"I think we should keep the number 10 jersey prepared for the next World Cup if he (Messi) feels like playing," Scaloni told a news conference.
"He earned the right to do whatever he wants with his career. What he transmits to his team mates is incredible. I have never seen such an influential person in the changing room.
Scaloni said following last year's Copa America triumph, when they beat Brazil in the final, they started to feel unbeatable.
"After (we beat) Brazil, I had a conversation with Messi... (and explained) we had a big task in-front of us, people from our country were starting to believe (in our World Cup chances), to hope, and pressure was rising," said Scaloni.
"He told me that 'We have to keep going, nothing else matters' and that gave me a tremendous emotional boost.
"I realised that we were on the verge of (achieving) something (big)."
— Thumbnail image: Reuters