BUENOS AIRES (Dec 18): Argentines were out in force from early morning Sunday in Buenos Aires as the nation’s expectations reached fever pitch hours ahead of the World Cup final against France in Qatar.
Many eager Argentine fans — almost all wearing the national team’s blue and white striped jersey — started queueing up at restaurants before they opened to get the best seats to watch the highly-anticipated match-up on large television screens hours later.
At the Obelisk monument in central Buenos Aires where fans usually flock to celebrate the team’s triumphs, dozens jumped up and down singing songs as passing drivers honked their car horns with a sense of destiny brewing over the prospects of iconic captain Lionel Messi leading his side to victory.
“I feel very proud to be Argentine, I know Messi will bring home the cup,” Franco Llanos, 22, decked out in an Argentina shirt, blue and white joker’s hat, draped in a flag and carrying a plastic replica of the World Cup trophy, told AFP.
“My passion is wooo-ooo-ooo!”
There was unbridled hope in the morning press as Clarin promised a “memorable night” in which 35-year-old “Messi is playing his last chance for glory.”
Messi has already said this will be his last World Cup, the only major international tournament he has never won.
La Nacion said winning the championship was “the dream of all Argentines and the chance to end 36 years of frustrations” since they last lifted the trophy, with the late icon Diego Maradona leading the team.
From Jujuy in the north to Chubut some 2,800 kilometers to the south, from Mendoza at the foot of the Andes mountain range in the west to Mar del Plata on the Atlantic coast, the country was preparing to rejoice at a much sought after third world title.
Carina Disanzo, 44, who was wearing Messi’s number 10 jersey in the historic Boca neighborhood, said the team “absolutely” deserves to win.
“It’s going to be a huge party,” whether Argentina win or lose, said Disanzo.
“It’s a really football country. What happens in Argentina… on the pitch, in the stands, with the people, doesn’t happen anywhere else.”
The Argentine capital was a sea of blue and white jerseys, flags, painted faces, hats and other memorabilia.
Vendors were cashing in, with Raul Machuca, 22, saying face paint and flags were selling like hot cakes at the Melu store in central Buenos Aires where he works.
With Christmas around the corner, he said it was a double boon for the shop.
In some major avenues, the city council had painted pedestrian crossings in the national team’s blue and white stripes.
At the Obelisk, some vendors were already selling “world champions” T-shirts including a third star.
Foreign football fans also got in on the act.
English friends Josh Gwilt, 27, and Greg Layhe, 28, were traveling in Brazil but decided to switch their itinerary to Buenos Aires “on a whim.”
“When are you ever going to be in South America and get to see Argentina in the final of a World Cup?” said Gwilt, decked out in the jersey of goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez.
Layhe, clad in a Messi shirt, said he was mainly rooting for the football superstar.
“We all hope he wins the World Cup. Even some French fans we’ve spoken to have been semi-torn because it would be an amazing end to his career,” said Layhe.
Lilly Oronoz and Antonio Secola, both 51, had come from Puerto Rico for the game.
“Everyone for Messi,” said Oronoz, while Secola added: “They will win!”
At midnight from Saturday to Sunday, Argentina’s main television channels marked 12 hours to kick off with a special rendition of the national anthem recorded by the players themselves in Qatar.
Football is one of only two things that bring all people together in such a politically polarized country with huge wealth disparities — and, currently, a mushrooming economic crisis.
“This national team and the Falklands united us,” said Edgar Esteban, a veteran of the 1982 war with Britain over the Falkland Islands in the South Atlantic and director of the Malvinas Museum in Buenos Aires. — AFP