- Huge crowds await around downtown Obelisco
- Open-top bus stop
- Players who fly over the road in helicopters
BUENOS AIRES (Reuters) – Argentina’s World Cup champions were forced to abandon an uncovered bus parade in Buenos Aires on Tuesday as millions of ecstatic fans flooded the streets and brought the city to a halt, along with Lionel Messi and his team. Fellows flew in by helicopter to complete the festivities.
The players who triumphed in Sunday’s World Cup final in Qatar were unable to reach the central Obelisco memorial as planned because the route was completely blocked by the surging crowd, which local media estimated at more than four million.
With footage on social media showing some fans trying to jump the team bus as it passed under a bridge, the scheduled eight-hour trip was cut short due to security concerns. The players were taken from their parade bus to the helicopters.
“The world champions are flying over the entire track with helicopters because it has become impossible to continue on the ground due to an explosion of joy,” presidential spokeswoman Gabriela Ceruti wrote on Twitter.
Television footage showed people across the city, including those waiting around the Obelisco and on surrounding highways trying to catch a glimpse of their returning champions.
“It’s crazy, it’s unbelievable, it’s the best thing that can happen to you in life,” said Matias Gomez, a 25-year-old metalworker.
“It is such a joy to see all these happy people, all together, one with the other, holding hands, hugging each other, kissing each other. We are all one today.”
The team had arrived in the early hours of Tuesday morning at Ezeiza airport. Although it was around 3am local time (0600 GMT), thousands were waiting with banners, flags and torches as they howled in joy after Messi and his cohorts ended the country’s 36-year wait to win the World Cup.
By midday, millions had already gathered in downtown Buenos Aires, with major thoroughfares closed for the parade. People carried banners of Messi and the late icon Diego Maradona, played instruments, or climbed lampposts or bus stops.
Roads are starting to open up as players take to the skies in helicopters, with some people left frustrated not to see the team.
The Argentine capital has been in celebratory mode since its dramatic victory over France in Sunday’s final in Qatar, helping to mask the economic woes of the South American country which is grappling with one of the world’s highest rates of inflation.
The penalty shootout victory made them world champions for the first time since Maradona lifted the trophy in 1986 and third in total.
The government made Tuesday a national holiday to allow fans to celebrate the victory.
“I celebrate the way people took to the streets to honor our national team,” President Alberto Fernandez said in a tweet. “Millions of Argentines on the streets, in an unfamiliar December, which will remain forever in our hearts.”
I can’t cry any more
As the convertible bus snaked through the city, the players danced and cheered with the fans who circled the bus. The police had to hold people back to allow the vehicle to proceed on its slow journey towards the city centre.
But in the end they could go no further.
“They do not allow us to welcome all the people who were in Obelisco. The security agents who accompanied us will not allow us to go forward,” Chiqui Tapia, president of the Argentine Football Association, wrote on Twitter.
“A thousand apologies on behalf of all the hero players,” he added. “Thank you so much for the love!! We are the best football country in the world! The cup has come home.”
Messi, 35, cemented his reputation as one of the world’s greatest players of all time with the victory as Argentina beat France 4-2 on penalties after an impressive 3-3 draw after extra time.
He said it was his last World Cup match, although he plans to play a few more matches for the national team.
Sometimes it felt like the whole country was celebrating all night from Sunday onwards in the Southern Hemisphere summer, the joy of victory hitting everyone with cars honking their horns regularly in celebration.
“Albiceleste,” Elio Mesaris, 25, said as he celebrated in the city where everyone and everything was covered in white and blue.
“Just look at all this,” he said, “look at all that is painted bright blue and white. Along the roads and highways, all the people are heading towards Argentina.”
“It’s really impressive, it’s unique, what a way to cry. I cried this morning, yesterday, the day before yesterday. I can’t cry anymore, it’s unbelievable!”
Additional reporting by Nicholas Mesculin and Miguel Lo Bianco; Additional reporting by Horacio Suriya in Buenos Aires and Aadi Nair in Bengaluru. Editing by Peter Rutherford, Ken Ferris, Preeta Sarkar, and Himani Sarkar
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