Watching football icon Lionel Messi inspire Argentina to World Cup glory in Qatar on Sunday made the economic suffering engulfing the country “worth it”, according to ecstatic fans.
Fireworks cracked, car horns sounded and fans draped in the national blue and white colors sang, danced and waved flags.
Messi scored two goals against France as the game ended 3-3 after extra-time, with Kylian Mbappe bagging a hat-trick for the reigning champions.
Messi also netted in the shoot-out but goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez was the hero saving one penalty before Gonzalo Montiel banged in the winning spot-kick to send Argentine players and fans into raptures.
“I can’t believe it, I can’t believe it,” repeated Joel Ciarallo, 31, over and again before the final had finished.
It was their “destiny to suffer. It’s a condition of being Argentine,” he added from a cafe in central Buenos Aires.
“Epic, this is epic, all of Argentine history is suffering like this,” added a fan watching the game on a giant screen in the Centenario park in the capital.
Watching the World Cup final and dreaming about winning it has been a much-needed exercise in escapism for citizens of a country that has suffered years of economic turmoil due to spiraling inflation.
Some 40 percent of the 45 million population lives in poverty and currency devaluation has caused havoc with disposal income.
“Argentina is a country that is suffering, that is going through an economic rollercoaster where it’s always hard to make ends meet at the end of the month,” said Agustin Acevedo, 25, a construction worker from Temperley, who came to Buenos Aires to watch the final.
But “it’s perfect, everything we’ve suffered has been worth it for this.”
“Let’s be clear, Argentina is in trouble, economically, socially, it’s bad. So this distraction is richly deserved,” he said.
Locksmith Gabriel Escalante paid tribute to Argentina coach Lionel Scaloni for the victory.
“They are playing as if in the field but with pressure, despite their luxuries. It’s a wonderful job by this coach,” said Escalante from the Cenetenario park.
“They deserve to win,” added Sergio Loreto, 32.
Perfect, worth the suffering
From early on Sunday morning, before the match even began, the square around the iconic Obelisk in central Buenos Aires began filling with people.
It is the traditional site for Argentines to celebrate sporting victories in the capital.
Dozens of fans jumped up and down singing songs as passing drivers honked their car horns with a sense of destiny brewing that Messi, 35 and in the twilight of his incredible career, would add the one major international honor missing from his collection.
Many eager Argentine fans — almost all wearing the national team’s blue and white striped jersey — had started queueing up at restaurants before they opened to get the best seats to watch the highly anticipated match-up on large television screens hours later.
From Jujuy in the north to Chubut some 2,800 kilometers to the south, from Mendoza at the foot of the Andes Mountain range in the west to Mar del Plata on the Atlantic coast, the country was preparing to rejoice at a much sought after third world title.
Even the day before the final, the Argentine capital was a sea of blue and white jerseys, flags, painted faces, hats and other memorabilia.
Vendors cashed in, with Raul Machuca, 22, saying face paint and flags sold like hot cakes at the Melu store in central Buenos Aires where he works.
With Christmas around the corner, he said it was a double boon for the shop.
In some major avenues, the city council had painted pedestrian crossings in the national team’s blue and white stripes.
At the Obelisk, some vendors were already selling “world champions” T-shirts including a third star from Sunday morning.