“It’s crazy, it’s incredible, it’s the best thing that can happen to you in life,” said 25-year-old metalworker Matias Gomez.
“It is an enormous joy to see all these happy people, all together, one with the other, holding hands, giving each other hugs, kisses. We are all one today.”
The team had arrived in the early hours of Tuesday at Ezeiza airport. Even though it was around 3 a.m. local time, thousands were waiting with banners, flags and flares and howling with joy after Messi and his teammates ended the country’s 36-year wait to win the World Cup.
By around midday millions had already congregated in downtown Buenos Aires, with major roads shut down for the parade. People held up banners of Messi and late icon Diego Maradona, played instruments or climbed lampposts or bus stops.
Roads started to clear after the players took to the sky in helicopters, with some people left disappointed not to see the team.
The Argentine capital has been in party mode since the dramatic victory over France in Sunday’s final in Qatar, which has helped mask economic woes in the South American nation battling one of the world’s highest inflation rates.
The penalty shootout victory made the country world champions for the first time since Maradona hoisted the trophy in 1986 and the third in total.
The government made Tuesday a national holiday to allow fans to celebrate the win.
“I celebrate how the people took to the streets to pay homage to our national team,” President Alberto Fernandez said in a post on Twitter. “Millions of Argentines in the streets, in a uncommon December, which will remain forever in our hearts.”
As the open-top bus snaked through the city, players danced and cheered with fans who circled the bus. Police were having to hold people back to allow the vehicle to move forward on its slow journey toward the center of town.
But eventually they could go no farther.