If there’s one thing Argentina fans have learned in this World Cup, it’s that you can’t rest on your laurels when you’re 2-0 up. But after a dramatic penalty shoot-out, there was delight in Buenos Aires that Argentina will be bringing home football’s most coveted trophy.
In La Puerta Roja, a bar in the downtown San Telmo district, so many people packed in early to watch the final that there was a queue outside an hour and a half before kickoff. The air smelled of adrenaline and the commentators could barely be heard over the din of yelling, hands banging on tables, and the occasional glass smashing.
Lionel Messi’s converted penalty to open the scoring was met screams of euphoria. The second goal, from Ángel Di María, led to mosh pits. The mood was jubilant as the second half wore on. Fans in sky blue and white striped jerseys, glitter flags smeared across arms and cheeks, embraced and jumped.
Two goals in two minutes from France’s Kylian Mbappé dampened the mood like an ice bath. As the game went into extra time, at least one person was breathing into a paper bag.
“My tummy hurts,” one of the bar staff said. By the time it went to penalties, the place felt – for better or for worse – like a powder keg. The Argentina goalkeeper Emiliano Martínez saved one penalty, another French effort went wide, and Gonzalo Montiel’s final kick clinched victory.
“This is the greatest thing that could happen, like paradise,” said Juan Pablo Iglesias, 48. In his arms was his eight-year-old son, Manuel, tears of joy rolling down his face. “We’re champions,” the father said, turning to his child. “We’re the greatest in the world!”
Outside, 22-year-old Iara Diaz described the mood as “ecstatic”. When Mbappé had equalised with 10 minutes of normal time to go, “I wanted to break everything,” she said, pinching her fingers in a gesture of frustration. This had been billed as Messi’s last chance to win the World Cup. “He badly deserved this,” Diaz said, almost bursting into tears as she said his name. Argentina last won the tournament in 1986, the year Maradona’s “Hand of God” goal helped knock England out.
After the game, fans flocked to the Obelisk in central Buenos Aires, the streets a carnivalesque cacophony of cheers, car horns, cumbia music and bullhorns. People started impromptu drumming bands with upturned paint buckets and cans, while slabs of beef grilled on the asados (barbecues), its scent filling the air of a brilliant sunny afternoon.
Throughout this tournament there has been a sense that Argentina’s national psyche needed a victory. The country has been emerging from a biting economic recession, a currency crisis, and inflation is running at almost 100 per cent. Buenos Aires had one of the longest Covid lockdowns in the world. Last week the vice-president and two-term former president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner was sentenced to six years in jail on corruption charges, a verdict that sharpened stark political divides.
In the circumstances, La Scaloneta – as the team are affectionately known – bringing home the trophy offers a chance for people to put aside their differences and bond.
At the start of the tournament, fans were up at the crack of dawn howling at their televisions as the team unexpectedly lost their first match to Saudi Arabia. In the quarter-finals Argentina let slip a 2-0 lead against the Netherlands but prevailed in a shoot-out, and after they waltzed through their semi-final against Croatia it felt as if their star was rising.
Before the final, Argentina’s president, Alberto Fernández, tweeted at his French counterpart: “Dear friend Emmanuel Macron, I hold great affection for you and I wish you the best for the future. Except for on Sunday. Argentina is my marvellous country, and it’s Latin America! Go, light blue and white!”
Martina Lovigné, a languages teacher from Messi’s hometown of Rosario, watched the match outside an Argentinian bar in the French capital. “It’s an enormous joy,” she said. “It was a really beautiful feeling to see the colours of the [Argentinian national] shirt on display here in the streets of Paris. The streets were at a standstill during the match, now they’ve gone sadly back to their normal rhythm and, well, the Argentinians are happy.” – Guardian`