Argentines burst into songs and dances after World Cup win

Buenos Aires (AFP): 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 neighborhood of Barrio Clinicas.


Delfina Yacoy, 22, a student of medicine, was another marveling 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, center-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.


Messi has chance to match Maradona


Lionel Messi will get his date with World Cup destiny, and the chance to emulate Diego Maradona, after Argentina’s emphatic 3-0 win over Croatia on Tuesday took them through to the final in Qatar.


It is 36 years since Maradona dragged Argentina to their second and most recent World Cup triumph in Mexico, the crowning moment of his dazzling but often troubled career.


Messi came to this World Cup admitting it would surely be his last at the age of 35 and therefore his final opportunity to lift the trophy that escaped him in 2014, when Argentina were defeated by Germany in Brazil.


The sense that Messi was building up to this moment was apparent in his displays for Paris Saint-Germain in the months before the tournament and he has performed at this World Cup like a player with no more time to waste.


Sixteen years after making his World Cup debut as a teenager, Qatar has witnessed Messi finally score in the knockout stages of the tournament, and he has done so in three straight games.


On Tuesday he scored his 11th World Cup goal, overtaking compatriot Gabriel Batistuta, who previously held the Argentine record.


He has now equalled former German player Lothar Matthaeus’ record of 25 World Cup appearances.


Messi’s performance against Croatia at Lusail Stadium was typical of his late career — a player who saves energy and spends long periods on the fringes of the game.


Yet for his country he is a captain who can still inspire and who always looks capable of creating something when the ball comes to his feet.


Goalkeeper Dominik Livakovic, who had been the hero in shoot-outs in the previous two rounds, had no chance of stopping Messi’s first-half penalty.


Messi then sent Julian Alvarez away to make it 2-0 late in the first half with a first-time ball on a counterattack.


But he saved the best moment for midway through the second half with a magnificent assist, twisting and turning to make a fool of Croatia’s Josko Gvardiol before teeing up Alvarez to score again.


“In the past 15 years he’s probably been the best player in the world and today he was very good again,” admitted the Croatia coach, Zlatko Dalic.


– ‘The greatest’ –


Messi is now level with Kylian Mbappe as the Qatar World Cup’s leading scorer, with five goals, but his assist was further confirmation of how the former Barcelona player has evolved with age.


The PSG version spends much of his time creating goals for Mbappe, and now for Argentina he is doing the same for the exciting young striker Alvarez.


“Sometimes it seems like we say Messi is the greatest just because we are Argentine, but I think there is no doubt about it,” said coach Lionel Scaloni.


“I am privileged to coach him and be able to watch him. It’s thrilling.”


Argentina’s run to the final has not been entirely down to Messi -– their vast and passionate support turned the semi-final effectively into a home game, with fans filling Lusail with the sound of their anthem “Muchachos”.


Scaloni has built a capable team around their one true great, taking Argentina into the final of the first World Cup since the death of Maradona.


Argentines may feel that it was meant to be, and Qatar will surely be delighted too.


Just over a year after he ended his long association with Barcelona and signed for Qatar-owned PSG, Messi’s presence will light up the final in Doha.


But, depending on the outcome of Wednesday’s second semi-final between France and Morocco, it could be his club teammate Mbappe blocking his path to glory.


Messi mania for ticketless fans


Nicolas Montez could tell from the roar coming from inside the Lusail Stadium that Lionel Messi had scored the opening goal in Argentina’s World Cup semi-final triumph on Tuesday.


One of thousands of ticketless fans stood outside, the Argentinian said it would never have been so loud for anyone else.


“If it was Croatia, there would have been silence. Everyone in there is for Messi,” added the 29-year-old who wore the number 10 Messi shirt in Argentina’s sky blue and white colours that is seen everywhere in Doha.


“This is the first Argentina game I could not get a ticket for,” said Santino Rosa, another Albiceleste fanatic.


“I am miserable not to be inside. But at least being here I know before the others that goals have been scored — and it is even better if Messi has one.”


More than 35,000 Argentina fans are reported to have been in Qatar for the World Cup and many have stayed to see out the campaign and be in the city if Messi does finally win the trophy.


Many could not get tickets for the semi-final. Messi fanatics — from his home country and South Asian migrant workers — gathered at big screens across Doha.


– Ticket solidarity –


Argentinian fans have set up WhatsApp groups to track available tickets and even find accommodation for those in need.


“If we hear of a ticket we try to help others,” said Montez.


“But it was difficult for today, there were many disappointed fans and it will be even worse for the final.”


The crowd outside the stadium grew as the match wore on.


Local families with children, all wearing the blue and white shirts or Argentine flags painted on their cheeks, also stared up at the stadium with the hard core who travelled from South America. Some watched the game on mobile phones.


Street traders started to gather selling Argentina and Croatia scarves for 50 riyals ($13), but struggled to find buyers.


Fifteen-year-olds Aisha and Haya carried sky blue and white pom-poms to go with their shirts and waved their arms furiously as Julian Alvarez’s goals were announced by further eruptions inside the stadium.


“We only really discovered football with the World Cup but we know Messi is special,” said Aisha.


“It is impossible to get tickets now but we will be out again for the final,” added Haya.


Thousands of people walked past the stadium to go and watch the match on a giant screen on Lusail Boulevard.


The FIFA Fan Festival near the Doha seafront closed its gates before the game started when it reached its 40,000 capacity.


Tens of thousands of migrant workers gathered at more than 10 fan zones set up for them around the edge of Doha.


Argentina are firm favourites with the foreign labourers whose treatment by Qatar has been in the spotlight in the runup to the World Cup.


And Argentina shirts have become the most popular fashion accessory of the World Cup whether in Doha’s upscale shopping malls or the industrial zone.


While official shirts can cost $90 or more, fakes can be bought for as little as three dollars in some backstreet stores.