BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (AFP) — Vast crowds of ecstatic fans cheered on their heroes as Argentina's World Cup winners led by captain Lionel Messi began an open-top bus parade through the capital Buenos Aires on Tuesday following their sensational victory over France.
Throngs of revelers wearing the national team's blue and white replica shirts and draped in flags sang, danced and set off fireworks, with many camping out all night to secure spots along the route.
After arriving home from Qatar in the early hours of the morning, the players set out in the morning from the Argentine Football Association (AFA) training complex on a 30-kilometre (20-mile) journey to the Obelsik monument in the center of city.
The parade began at walking pace and after two hours, the bus had not yet covered six kilometres.
Players had been given a taste of what was to come on when tens of thousands of people lined the route from the international airport to their brief overnight stop.
"This trophy that we won is also for all those that did not manage to win it in previous World Cups we played, such as Brazil 2014," Messi said on social media, referring to the team that lost 1-0 to Germany in the title match eight years ago.
He also paid tribute to current and past teammates, and backroom staff.
"Thank you from the heart! Come on Argentina!" added Messi.
Tuesday has been declared a public holiday for the celebrations.
"It's wonderful to experience this moment as an Argentine, sharing it with other Argentines," said student Fiorella Lavia, 18.
Argentina won the final in Qatar 4-2 on penalties after a rollercoaster 3-3 draw for their first world title in 36 years.
Messi, who scored twice in the final, was the first player to emerge from the plane, holding the World Cup aloft, with coach Lionel Scaloni right behind him.
Forward Julian Alvarez, a revelation in Qatar with his four goals, was one of the next players out of the Aerolineas Argentinas Airbus A330.
The party that began after Sunday's final is now set to climax with the players' parade through the capital.
"Being so young, it is a blessing to see Argentina win the World Cup," Lautaro Rodriguez, 21, who was celebrating with his girlfriend near the Obelisk, told AFP.
"For me it would already be a lot just to see them," said Valentino Pino, 19.
"But if Messi looks us in the eyes, at the camera, that would be it!"
Messi, 35, crowned his record-breaking career with football's biggest prize as he produced one of the greatest World Cup final performances, scoring a first-half penalty and netting again in extra time.
In doing so he emulated his predecessor as Argentina's idol, Diego Maradona who inspired the country to their second world title with a series of match-winning displays at Mexico 1986.
"I remember '86 but this victory yesterday was much more emotional and much more stressful," architect Ricardo Grunfeld, 65, told AFP.
Argentina had led 2-0 with 10 minutes of normal time left and 3-2 with only two minutes of extra-time to go.
But Kylian Mbappe completed only the second World Cup final hat trick in history to take the gripping final to penalties, before Gonzalo Montiel swept home the decisive spot kick.
Despite the huge numbers of revelers during Sunday's festivities after the game fewer than 20 people were arrested for isolated incidents of violence or theft, authorities said.
- 'It warms the heart' -
France's beaten players were given a rousing reception by fans in central Paris on Monday after their return from Qatar.
They appeared on the balcony of the Crillon Hotel overlooking the Place de la Concorde.
"Frankly, it's magnificent, it warms the heart, it's a great pleasure to see that we were able to make so many French people proud and happy," forward Marcus Thuram told TF1 TV.
The captivating final rounded off one of the most controversial World Cups in history in which Qatari organisers faced persistent questions about the country's treatment of migrant workers and its laws on homosexuality.