With a Fernet in one hand and the World Cup in the other, after a month of pressure, the national team paraded across Buenos Aires to celebrate with millions on the streets.
Despite dreaming of becoming world champions for most of their lives, little did the players know how astounding their arrival in Argentina would be, as record-breaking crowds blocked roads and overwhelmed official planning.
The city was brought to a standstill by crowds that far outnumbered the authorities’ wildest expectations. Highways, avenues, and streets along the team bus’s expected route were packed with people. Security minister Aníbal Fernández tweeted that five million people attended, exceeding any other event in the history of Argentina. Some images even showed fans climbing the inside of the 68-meter-tall Obelisk, the epicentre of the gathering.
Poised triumphantly in the open top bus, Messi was grinning from ear to ear. Just a few hours before, upon their landing at Ezeiza Airport at 2:30am after a 13,000-kilometer flight, Argentina’s national team had been welcomed with a red carpet and a performance by La Mosca, the singer of “Muchachos”, the song that became the anthem of the tournament. The captain led the way down the steps of the plane, holding the Cup and smiling beside coach Lionel Scaloni. The rest of the team followed, looking at the crowds, in their first seconds back in their country after over a month in Qatar.
By that point, crowds were already starting to gather over 31 kilometres away in Buenos Aires, as they did after the team defeated France on Sunday. The masses were hoping to see the players, at least from afar. But not everything went to plan. Soon after the squad left Ezeiza for the city at 11:30am, the Argentine Football Association (AFA) confirmed that the team would not make it to the Obelisk or the Casa Rosada, and would instead greet their followers from the 25 de Mayo highway and its crossing with 9 de Julio Avenue.
Eschewing gaudy displays of wealth, the footballers danced to the beats of the fans’ and their teammates’ drums and drank Fernet and Coca Cola from cut plastic bottles, in the viajero style favored at popular carnivals and fiestas across Argentina. In this fashion, the players celebrated their long-awaited victory like true fans after a month of maintaining composure before cameras, training under pressure, and being away from their loved ones.
As the hours passed, security concerns were raised on social media, while the National, Buenos Aires Province and Buenos Aires City governments remained silent – no official communications, no road maps, no timetables, no specifics about the protocol in the Casa Rosada.
Shortly before 4pm, Claudio Fabián “Chiqui” Tapia, head of the Argentine Football Association, stated that the team’s security detail had determined the team could not continue by road. “They won’t let us say hi to all the people waiting in the Obelisk,” he tweeted. “The same security that’s escorting us won’t let us through. Sorry on behalf of the champions. It’s a pity.”
Presidential spokeswoman Gabriela Cerruti confirmed that the team would be transferred to a helicopter to finish their victory lap in the skies. The decision came because the streets were saturated with people and major traffic thoroughfares had not been secured for their passing.
The group, continuing with their celebration, was flown back to the AFA site without visiting the Casa Rosada or being welcomed by President Alberto Fernández.
Tapia later added: “We appreciate the support of the Buenos Aires Provincial Government, led by its Minister of Security Sergio Berni, who led the players to the entrance to Buenos Aires, preventing any incidents and allowing them to hug the Argentine people.”
Five hours after they had left Ezeiza, Messi, his teammates and the Cup were back at the AFA facilities where they’d spent the night. Regardless of their disappointment at not getting to see their heroes, the millions who crowded the streets kept cheering and celebrating the win Argentina had waited 36 years for.