World Cup winners begin victory parade among euphoric Argentines
BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (AFP) - Millions of ecstatic fans are expected to cheer on their heroes as Argentina's World Cup winners led by captain Lionel Messi began their open-top bus parade of the capital Buenos Aires on Tuesday following their sensational victory over France.
Throngs of revelers wearing the national team's blue and white replica shirts and draped in flags sang, danced and set off fireworks, with many camping out all night to secure spots along the planned route.
After arriving home from Qatar in the early hours of the morning, the players set out at 11:45 am (1445 GMT) from the Argentine Football Association (AFA) training complex on a 30-kilometer (20-mile) journey to the Obelsik monument in the center of city.
They were given a taste of what was to come on when tens of thousands of people lined the route from the international airport, where they landed at 2:40 am, to their brief overnight stop.
"Good morning," wrote Messi on his social media accounts, alongside a picture of him lying in bed hugging the World Cup trophy at the AFA complex, where the team spent the night.
Tuesday has been declared a public holiday for the celebrations. "It's wonderful to experience this moment as an Argentine, sharing it with other Argentines," said student Fiorella Lavia, 18. Argentina won the final in Qatar 4-2 on penalties after a rollercoaster 3-3 draw for their first world title in 36 years.
Messi, who scored twice in the final, was the first player to emerge from the plane, holding the World Cup aloft, with coach Lionel Scaloni right behind him. Forward Julian Alvarez, a revelation in Qatar with his four goals, was one of the next players out of the Aerolineas Argentinas Airbus A330.
A picture of Messi was emblazoned on the plane's tail with the words: "one team, one country, one dream" on its side. The players made their way from the plane along a red carpet to a white open-top bus with the words "world champions" as their World Cup theme song "Muchachos" by ska band La Mosca blared.
'Better than 86'
The party that began after Sunday's final is now set to climax with the players' parade through the capital. "I came because of my passion for Argentina. I love Messi, I love the entire team," Alejandra Diaz, 55, a kindergarten teacher told AFP outside the airport.
Welder Javier Merina, 41, said he was "a Messi fanatic" and went to the airport to try to get the star to sign a picture. Messi, 35, crowned his record-breaking career with football's biggest prize as he produced one of the greatest World Cup final performances, scoring a first-half penalty and netting again in extra time.
In doing so he emulated his predecessor as Argentina's idol, Diego Maradona who inspired the country to their second world title with a series of match-winning displays at Mexico 1986. "I remember '86 but this victory yesterday was much more emotional and much more stressful," architect Ricardo Grunfeld, 65, told AFP.
Argentina had led 2-0 with 10 minutes of normal time left and 3-2 with only two minutes of extra-time to go. But Kylian Mbappe completed only the second World Cup final hat trick in history to take the gripping final to penalties, before Gonzalo Montiel swept home the decisive spot kick.
Despite the huge numbers of revelers during Sunday's festivities after the game fewer than 20 people were arrested for isolated incidents of violence or theft, authorities said.
'It warms the heart'
France's beaten players were given a rousing reception by fans in central Paris on Monday after their return from Qatar. They appeared on the balcony of the Crillon Hotel overlooking the Place de la Concorde.
"Frankly, it's magnificent, it warms the heart, it's a great pleasure to see that we were able to make so many French people proud and happy," forward Marcus Thuram told TF1 TV.
The captivating final rounded off one of the most controversial World Cups in history in which Qatari organisers faced persistent questions about the country's treatment of migrant workers and its laws on homosexuality.