Around the Obelisk in Buenos Aires, revellers in football shirts, hats, wigs and face-paint in the Argentinian colors danced long into the night to drums and sound systems blaring cumbia and reggaeton.
Young people climbed fences, light posts and the giant BA sign at the foot of the monument. It was an ecstatic tribute to a World Cup victory this country had been waiting for ever since this football-mad nation last carried the trophy home in 1986.
A giant football shirt hung from the facade of the Teatro Colón, on the central Avenida 9 de Julio. Parents asked friends to take pictures of babies in tiny Messi shirts to mark this momentous occasion for when their children – too young to remember – grow up.
More than a million people were in the streets of Buenos Aires celebrating the victory, according to estimates from the Argentinian authorities.
It was a scene that played out across the city, with impromptu parties even breaking out at bus stops as fans making their way back out to the suburbs waited for buses they were too euphoric to realize weren’t running.
“Coming to Argentina during the World Cup was the best decision I’ve made in my entire life!” said Tomás Kuklis, who had moved back home from New York so he could watch the World Cup with his family.
On Monday, Argentinians were bleary-eyed but still buoyed by the victory. The national football team are due in Buenos Aires Ministro Pistarini airport at around 2am on Tuesday morning, arriving on a special Aerolíneas Argentinas flight with the team’s image emblazoned on its side. They can expect a hero’s welcome, with local media posting links to flight tracker sites so fans can follow their return in real time.
Such vast crowds are expected to flock to the airport to see them home that buses that would normally run along the highway into central Buenos Aires are reportedly being put on diversion. Many social media users have been calling on President Alberto Fernández to decree 20 December a public holiday, with “Alberto decree” trending on Twitter after the team’s victory.
“Always together, always united. WE’RE WORLD CHAMPIONS! There are no more words. THANK YOU, Argentina,” Fernández tweeted after the game.
For many Argentinians, Lionel Messi leading his team to victory has sealed his place at Maradona’s side in the pantheon of the footballing gods. “Messi has taken history by storm and won devotion, gratitude and eternity,” was the headline in the broadsheet La Nación. The team captain, who is 35, has said that this World Cup will be his last, but on Sunday, with the World Cup trophy cradled in his arm, he told reporters that he would like to keep playing on the national team for the time being being.
The Qatari emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al Thani, presented Messi with a traditional bisht robe before he lifted the cup. The gesture was interpreted as a great gesture of respect on both sides.
Amid the riotous joy of car horns, music and whooping, several fans wore T-shirts, caps and signs with their new favorite Messi quote: “Qué mirás bobo? Andá para allá bobo!”. (What are you looking at, dummy? Get lost, dummy!) The phrase is from the tournament’s infamously scrappy quarter-final match with the Netherlands: as he came off the pitch, Messi was giving an interview in the tunnel when he caught the Dutch striker Wout Weghorst gave him the stink eye, and made the comment live on air. His take-no-nonsense attitude went viral instantly.
Roars of support poured in from across Latin America, with football lovers across the region ecstatic that the trophy had gone, if not to them, then at least to their regional neighbours. “Argentina’s victory is the victory for the Great Homeland”, tweeted the Bolivian president, Luis Arce, using the phrase which describes the ideal of a shared regional community of Spanish-speaking Americans.
“Football is so beautiful,” added the Chilean president, Gabriel Boric. “A giant hug to our Argentinian brothers. Their joy crosses the [Andean] cordillera.”
In France, which lost to Argentina by the narrowest of margins, police reported more than 200 arrests. But in Buenos Aires, city police had tallied just 17 arrests by Monday morning, according to local media.
In the streets of San Telmo, a truck passed by, full of men several liters of Quilmes beer in. A man in a blue and white boiler suit thumped the car roof in anger at a perceived slight, looking for a moment like he might start something.
But then, voices of revellers all around swelled like a tide. “Come on man – be happy,” they said. “We won!”