By DANIEL POLITI and ALMUDENA CALATRAVA
BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (AP) — Argentines let loose on Sunday and streets across the country became places of celebration after an epic World Cup final in which the national team beat France on penalties.
It was the country’s third World Cup title, and the first since 1986.
“I’m very happy, we really deserved this. The team suffered quite a bit, but it recovered as time went on,” said Josefina Villalba, a 55-year-old nanny who joined hundreds of fans at one of the many public plazas where giant screens were set up to watch the long-awaited match.
Millions of Argentine cried, yelled and hugged as they followed the game, which was a rollercoaster of emotions.
“I feel an immense happiness in my heart because this is the first World Cup I truly enjoy,” Hector Quinteros, a 34-year-old security guard, said as his eyes welled up with tears. “This always happens. They always make us suffer.”
At the end of the first half, many were gearing up to celebrate as Argentina led 2-0 and clearly dominated the match but that early happiness turned to anxiety as France caught up and ultimately led the teams to extra time and then penalties.
For many, the agonizing feelings of the match made the victory all the sweeter.
“When you suffer over something so much, the satisfaction is greater,” Fabio Villani, a 45-year-old video editor said, noting he still couldn’t quite believe Argentina had won a World Cup title.
It also felt par for the course for Argentina, a country known for its seemingly endless economic crises.
“Suffering is something that is very Argentine,” said Maria Isabel Ayala, a 53-year-old hairdresser. “If we suffer, it’s because we truly feel it in our hearts.”
The national squad led by captain Lionel Messi has managed to unite Argentines with a sense of joy that isn’t frequent in a country that has been stuck in economic doldrums for years, is suffering one of the world’s highest inflation rates and almost four in 10 live in poverty.
“We’re very happy that they gave us this triumph that the people needed beyond the socioeconomic problems that we’re having,” Gabriel Fernández, a 42-year-old artisan, said as he celebrated his victory surrounded by his family in a Buenos Aires park.
On a scorching summer day, the Obelisk in downtown Buenos Aires quickly started filling with people as thousands went downtown to celebrate.
Shortly after the end of the match, the subway turned into a party as fans packed the cars, singing, chanting and jumping for joy as they headed to join the celebrations at the Obelisk.
“Holding Leo Messi by the hand, we’re going to go all the way,” the crowd chanted as euphoria took over.
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