Argentina football team abandons parade amid swarms of people

A parade to celebrate the Argentine World Cup champions was abruptly cut short on Tuesday as millions of people poured onto roads and overpasses in a chaotic attempt to catch a glimpse of the national team that won one of the greatest World Cup finals of all time.

So many jubilant, flag-waving fans swarmed the capital that the players had to abandon the open-air bus transporting them to Buenos Aires and get on helicopters for a flyover of the capital that the government billed as an aerial parade.

“The world champions are flying over the whole route on helicopters because it was impossible to continue by land due to the explosion of people’s happiness,” Gabriela Cerruti, the spokesperson for President Alberto Fernandez, wrote on social media.

The Argentine football team ride on an open bus during their homecoming parade in Buenos Aires, Argentina (Rodrigo Abd/AP/PA)

After flying over key points of Buenos Aires where fans had gathered, the helicopters returned to the headquarters of the Argentine Football Association outside the capital.

Some fans continued celebrating in the streets, while others headed out of Buenos Aires, complaining they were not able to pay their respects to the team that brought home the country’s first World Cup trophy since 1986.

“We’re angry because the government didn’t organise this properly so we could all celebrate,” said Diego Benavidez, 25, who had been waiting since early morning to see the team. “They stole the World Cup from us.”

Others, however, took it in their stride.

“I’m not disappointed, we lived the party,” said Nicolas Lopez, 33, who was in downtown Buenos Aires with his seven-year-old daughter.

Football association head Claudio Tapia blamed police for the change in plans. “The same security organisms that were escorting us are not allowing us to move forward,” Mr Tapia wrote on social media. “I apologise in the name of all the champion players.”

The bus had been moving slowly for more than four hours through the throngs of people before the overland parade was cut short. Team Captain Lionel Messi and the rest of the players waved at the massive crowd as they carried the World Cup trophy aloft after securing the country’s third title.

Crowds greeted the Argentine football team in Buenos Aires (Victor Caivano/AP/PA)

“This is madness, it’s indescribable,” said Brian Andreassi, 23, as he walked downtown wearing the team’s jersey. “There are no words.”

The World Cup and the success of the Messi-led squad brought much-needed good news for a country that has been stuck in economic doldrums for years, suffers one of the world’s highest inflation rates and where nearly four in 10 people live in poverty.

“There’s an immense union among all Argentines — unity, happiness. It’s as if you can breathe another air, there’s another energy in the air,” said Victoria Roldan. “My body and heart are about to burst.”

The players were all smiles as they watched the multitudes gathered to see them, many trying to get as close as possible to the bus. An estimated four million people were in the streets by Tuesday afternoon, according to local media citing police sources.

Celebrating fans took over highways, avenues and the access routes into the capital as temperatures climbed to 30C.

Thousands had set up camp since early Tuesday morning at the Obelisk, the Buenos Aires landmark that is the traditional site of celebrations.

Fans set a flag on a monument in front of the presidential palace in Buenos Aires (Mario De Fina/AP/PA)

The Argentine president declared a national holiday on Tuesday so the country could celebrate the World Cup victory.

The song Muchachos, which was written by a fan and became a popular unofficial anthem for the Argentine team at the World Cup, filled the streets as fans joined in singing it over and over again.

Some fans also paid tribute to Argentine soccer legend Diego Maradona, the captain of the 1986 squad that won the World Cup and who died two years ago, with flags bearing his name and face. “This is for Diego, who’s seeing it from heaven,” fans chanted.

By mid-afternoon, fans started filling up Plaza de Mayo in front of Government House, amid rumors the players might go there for a reprise of the festivities for Argentina’s 1986 World Cup victory that were held there.

The raucous welcome for the team began before dawn as thousands of fans lined up to greet them upon their return from Qatar.

It took the bus an hour to travel the 11 kilometres (6.8 miles) from the airport to AFA headquarters, where the players were welcomed with fireworks, and then spent the night. In the morning, Messi posted a photo on social media showing him hugging the World Cup trophy next to him while he slept.

Several players also posted photos of the plane ride on social media. In one, Nicolas Tagliafico posted an image of the World Cup trophy buckled into an airplane seat as if it were just another passenger.

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