By Santiago Carbone
Ezeiza, Argentina, Dec 20 (EFE).- Tens of thousands of jubilant fans stayed up until the early hours of Tuesday morning to welcome home Argentina’s World Cup-winning squad.
Lionel Messi’s men clinched the country’s third World Cup – the first since Diego Marradona lifted the trophy in 1986 – following a tense and dramatic final against France in Qatar on Sunday evening.
The Albiceleste, led by the president of the Argentine football association (AFA) Claudio Tapia and coach Lionel Scaloni, touched down at the Ezeiza international airport near Buenos Aires at 2.23am local time (5.23am GMT).
Moments later, Messi emerged from the plane with the coveted World Cup trophy in hand. He was joined at the top of the airstair by Scaloni and Tapia.
The squad later boarded an open-top bus emblazoned with images of Argentina’s World Cup heroes and the national football shirt with the newly-added third star above the crest.
Tens of thousands of fans lined the tree-kilometer route from the airport to the AFA sporting facilities, where the players will spend the night before a day of celebration with fans in Buenos Aires proper.
Crowds had gathered hours ahead of the trophy-wielding team’s return home.
Later on Tuesday, captain Messi and company are due to take part in an open-top bus parade to the center of Buenos Aires, where fans will gather around the city’s iconic obelisk, the scene of massive celebrations after Sunday’s final.
A magisterial Messi – thought by many to be the best player in the history of football – finally claimed his deserved World Cup trophy on the fifth attempt, having first played in the world’s top football competition in 2006, when Argentina were knocked out by hosts Germany in the quarter-finals. At 35, the World Cup in Qatar could be his last.
Sunday’s final in Qatar was filled with drama for the Argentines, who went 2-0 up in the first half thanks to a penalty from Messi and a goal from Ángel di María.
France, lackluster in the first half, had a renaissance in the second with a quick brace from Kylian Mbappé, including one from the spot.
Messi and Mbappé both scored in extra time, the former from open play and the latter from the penalty spot again.
Messi and Mbappé, teammates at Paris Saint-Germain, both struck first in the penalty shootout but two French misses saw the trophy go to an emotional Argentina. EFE