BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (AFP) — Argentines waited eagerly to welcome home their World Cup heroes on Monday as the capital prepared for a massive street party after the national team's remarkable shoot-out victory over France.
"Crowned with glory," read a banner on a newspaper kiosk in Buenos Aires, while the Clarin and La Prensa dailies both sent a huge "Thank you" to Lionel Messi and his teammates for winning the country's third world title, and first in 36 years.
Argentina won the final in Qatar 4-2 on penalties after a thrilling 3-3 draw over 120 minutes of unparallelled drama.
The party that began after Sunday's final was briefly on pause as local city workers continued to clean up the debris from the celebrations when millions took to the streets in jubilation.
The team is guaranteed a white-hot reception when they land at the Ezeiza airport in Buenos Aires, at 2:25 am (12:25 pm Jamaica time) today.
"I'm going to greet them at the airport. Now that they have been crowned, we have to greet them and thank them," Jose Luis Quinoga, 56, told AFP at the Obelisk memorial in central Buenos Aires, where the night before more than a million people celebrated.
A private reception at a VIP suite in the airport has been arranged to greet the returning players, and the Argentine football association said they will celebrate with fans at the Obelisk today.
"I will leave work and the first thing I will do is come here," Julieta Rosel, 23, told AFP at the monument.
Local media speculated about whether the players would also head to the presidential palace, with politicians concerned about being accused of trying to capitalise on sporting success.
Messi finally 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.
France had fought back from 2-0 down in the last 10 minutes of the match as Kylian Mbappe scored twice to equalise and force extra time in a pulsating match watched by a crowd of 89,000 in Lusail Stadium.
Messi seemed to have decided the match in extra time with his second goal of the game, before his Paris Saint-Germain teammate Mbappe completed only the second World Cup final hat-trick in history to bring the score to 3-3 and force penalties.
Gonzalo Montiel swept home the decisive spot kick to win the shoot-out 4-2 for Argentina.
And while the players were able to celebrate with an estimated 40,000 fans inside the stadium on Sunday, 45 million people back home are eager to share the moment with them.
"It's what we're all waiting for," teacher Veronica Silva, 44, told AFP from the Plaza de Mayo in central Buenos Aires on Sunday.
Despite the huge numbers of revellers "people acted in a very positive way", a spokesperson for the municipality said.
Fewer than 20 people were arrested for isolated incidents of violence or theft.
There were some signs of vandalism with smashed shop windows near the Obeslik, which also suffered some damage to cameras and an internal stairwell after people tore down protective barriers and broke open a door, a worker clearing debris told AFP on Monday.
Normal Monday morning life seemed to have resumed with street vendors selling their regular wares rather than football jerseys and flags.
The disappointed France players became the last team to leave Qatar on Monday and, after some confusion over their plans, agreed to go and greet their fans in central Paris.
Sports Minister Amelie Oudea-Castera said the team planned to go to the Place de la Concorde in Paris after their plane touches down.
And although the chief of France's football federation (FFF), Noel Le Graet initially appeared to contradict the minister, the FFF later released a statement confirming the event would take place following the players' plane landing at around 8:00 pm (2:00 pm Jamaica time).
The captivating final rounded off one of the most controversial World Cups in history.
Qatari organisers faced persistent questions about the country's treatment of migrant workers and its laws on homosexuality.
Football's world governing body FIFA said the tournament attracted more than 3.4 million spectators, making it one of the most watched ever.
FIFA said more than one million visitors travelled to Qatar to watch the matches, in line with predictions from the Gulf state that people would not be dissuaded by the negative publicity over its rights record.
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