BUENOS AIRES – A parade to celebrate the Argentine World Cup champions was abruptly cut short Tuesday as millions of people poured onto thoroughfares, highways and overpasses in a chaotic attempt to catch a glimpse of the national team that won one of the great 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 board helicopters for a capital flyover 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 Fernández, wrote on social media.
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 with long faces, complaining they were unable 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 organize this properly so we could all celebrate,” said Diego Benavídez, 25, who had been waiting since early morning to see the team. “They stole the World Cup from us.”
Others, however, took it in stride.
“I’m not disappointed, we lived the party,” said Nicolás López, 33, who was in downtown Buenos Aires with his 7-year-old daughter.
The parade was suspended shortly after two people jumped from a bridge onto the open-top bus carrying the players. One made it inside the bus, the other fell onto the pavement.
Football association head Claudio Tapia blamed law enforcement for the changeup of plans. “The same security organisms that were escorting us are not allowing us to move forward,” Tapia wrote on social media. “I apologize in the name of all the champion players.”
Toward nightfall, when most of the fans had already poured out of downtown Buenos Aires, there were isolated clashes between a few stragglers and law enforcemen. At least eight people were injured, according to local media reports.
The incidents began when firefighters went to the Obelisk, the iconic Buenos Aires landmark that is the traditional site of celebrations, to evict a few people who had broken their way inside the monument.
The bus had been moving at a snail’s pace for more than four hours through the throngs of humanity 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.
“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 stuck for years in economic doldrums and suffering one of the world’s highest inflation rates, with nearly 4-in-10 people living 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 Roldán. “My body and heart are about to burst.”
Carrying a World Cup replica, the 32-year-old and her 36-year-old sister, Mariana, were eager to catch a glimpse of the team and in particular its captain, Messi.
"We're dying to see him,” Roldán said. “Seeing him with that immense smile, with those bright eyes filled with hope, it really fills our heart with joy and happiness. ... I think that Leo has deserved it for years, and this was his moment.”
The players were all smiles as they watched the multitudes hostling to get as close as possible to the bus. An estimated 4 million people were in the streets by Tuesday afternoon, according to local media citing police sources.
“I celebrate the way the people took to the streets to honor our squad,” President Alberto Fernández wrote on social media after the parade was cut short.
Celebrating fans took over highways, avenues and the access routes into the capital as temperatures climbed to 30 degrees Celsius (86 degrees Fahrenheit).
Thousands had set up camp since early Tuesday morning at the Obelisk.
The Argentine president declared a national holiday 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.
“This is a party. The last time Argentina was a champion I was 3 years old, I don’t remember anything,” said Yael Torchinsky, 39. “I want to live this intensely because the Argentine people need this happiness.”
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. Fernández’s administration had offered the palatial mansion, popularly known as the Casa Rosada, or Pink House, according to Security Minister Aníbal Fernández.
The raucous welcome for the team began before dawn as thousands of fans lined up upon their return from Qatar.
The players were beaming as they descended from their plane in Ezeiza, outside Argentina’s capital, shortly before 3 a.m. onto a red carpet. Messi was the first one out, carrying the World Cup trophy, flanked by coach Lionel Scaloni, who put his arm around the captain as they walked past a sign that read, “Thank you, champions.”
The team was welcomed by rock band La Mosca singing “Muchachos," and several players, including Messi, could be seen singing the words as they boarded the bus taking them to the Argentine Football Association headquarters.
It took the bus an hour to travel the 11 kilometers (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.