Thousands of Argentines filled the streets of central Buenos Aires with blue-and-white banners on Tuesday as they watched Lionel Messi lead their team to a 3-0 win over Croatia and a place in the World Cup final.
The huge crowds around the Obelisco in the heart of the capital buzzed as Messi gave the South Americans the lead with an early penalty in Qatar before Julian Alvarez scored two more, the last following another dazzling Messi run.
The win sets Argentina up for a Sunday final against France or Morocco, which could see the country win its first World Cup since Diego Maradona led the Albiceleste to victory in 1986.
“I’m excited because a final is the best. We cannot hope for more,” said fan Mauricio Gasandrea as he celebrated in the Buenos Aires crowd. “It’s an amazing feeling as an Argentine. Just look around at this.”
Fans climbed onto bus stops, street lamps and sculptures to celebrate the win, with some banging drums and tooting horns.
“It is amazing, it is an immense joy. For all Argentines to experience this is unique, it cannot be explained,” said a supporter who gave his name as Angeles.
Sunday’s final is likely to be Messi’s last chance to win the World Cup. The 35-year-old has piled up honours and accolades at club level but success with the national side has been limited to the 2021 Copa America.
He came agonisingly close to winning the World Cup in 2014 only for Argentina to lose to Germany in extra time.
“We have been waiting for a long time for this to happen again,” said Martin Duarte, a fan wearing an Argentina jersey.
“We mourned the lost finals for years, but here we are again, a new final. I’m happy and excited.”
It has been a remarkable World Cup campaign so far for Argentina, who have scored 12 goals in their six matches.
They got off to a troubled start after losing 2-1 to second-lowest ranked team in the tournament Saudi Arabia in their opening group game before bouncing back, to beat other group rivals Mexico and Poland 2-0 and emerge out of the group on top.
A 2-1 win over Australia in the round of 16 led to a quarter-final clash against familiar foes Netherlands. The highly charged meeting saw Argentina survive a penalty shootout against the Oranje to line up Croatia in the semi-final. – Reuters