Argentina delirious as Messi inspires run to World Cup final

A fan of Argentina kisses a replica of the World Cup trophy as he celebrates his team´s victory after the Qatar 2022 World Cup semifinal football match between Croatia and Argentina at the Obelisk in Buenos Aires on December 13, 2022. — AFP

BUENOS AIRES: Argentines broke out into song and celebrations after the country’s hero Lionel Messi inspired the team to a 3-0 victory over Croatia in Qatar on Tuesday, sending them to the World Cup final.

“We won! I love you Argentina,” cried pensioner Pablo Cardozo, 74, as he stood in front of a television screen at a cafe in Buenos Aires, as younger customers cheered him on.

Dozens of people in the cafe rose from their seats and broke out into Argentina’s hit World Cup song: “Muchachos, ahora nos volvimos a ilusionar” (which translates as “Lads, now we get excited again”) sung by ska band La Mosca.

Cardozo shouted himself almost hoarse with each of Argentina’s three goals: first a Messi penalty and then a brace from young forward Julian Alvarez, the second of which came after a mazy run by his captain and the team’s talisman.

“I love Julian!” exclaimed Emilia Salvo, 23, as Gabriela Perdiguez, 26, added: “I can’t take any more of this excitement, it’s a dream!”

Students celebrated in the university neighbourhood of Barrio Clinicas.

Delfina Yacoy, 22, a student of medicine, was another marvelling at Alvarez’s contribution but added that “it was a really tough match, they are two great teams.”

“This seemed more difficult than other times, Croatia had just knocked out Brazil,” said Clara Cerdeira 20, another student at a pizzeria terrace watching the game on an outdoor screen.

For supermarket employee Rodrigo Sarcino, 24, watching the match at an ice cream shop terrace, centre-back pairing “Nico Otamendi and Cuti (Cristian) Romero are two lions!”

Throughout the country hoards of fans crowded around giant screens to watch the match and let their emotions run wild.

Thousands descended on the popular Punta Mogotes beach in the southern Mar del Plata seaside resort, the home of goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez, waving flags and little harlequin hats.

The greatest affection was of course reserved for Messi, the seven-time Ballon d’Or winner who has achieved almost everything possible in the game — except emulating his predecessor as Argentina’s idol, Diego Maradona, who inspired the South Americans to World Cup glory in 1986.

“Messi has entered the hearts of fans. He is a very loveable person and has shown leadership, he’s shouldered the team,” historian Felipe Pigna told AFP.

Messi’s tetchy “fool, get lost” insult aimed at Dutch forward Wout Weghorst following Argentina’s dramatic quarter-final penalty shoot-out victory over the Netherlands has already made its way onto mugs, T-shirts and other memorabilia.

That spiciness is “loved so much by Argentine fans,” added Pigna.

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