'We deserve this!': Argentina erupts in joy after epic World Cup final victory over France

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By Euronews  with AP
A couple kisses as other football fans celebrate Argentina's victory over France in the World Cup final, Buenos Aires, Argentina, Sunday, Dec. 18, 2022.
A couple kisses as other football fans celebrate Argentina's victory over France in the World Cup final, Buenos Aires, Argentina, Sunday, Dec. 18, 2022.   -   Copyright  AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd

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 Argentines cried, yelled and hugged as they followed the game, which was a roller coaster of emotions.

Throughout the match, many watching in a public square in Buenos Aires chanted the name of captain Lionel Messi, often considered the world's greatest footballer who had long talked about how he yearned for a World Cup victory.

“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.”

After 36 long years, Argentina finally won a World Cup title, erasing years of doubts and questions about whether a country known for having some of the world's greatest soccer players could really perform on an international stage. The country won its first title in 1978, but lost finals in 1930, 1990 and 2014.

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, ultimately leaving the score at 3-3 before Argentina beat France 4-2 on 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.”

Many fans were quick to remember Argentina great Diego Maradona, who died two years ago, saying he had something to do with today's victory.

“Diego sees everything from heaven, he wouldn't have wanted Argentina to lose. The first cup without him and we won! Diego is always here, he's eternal,” said Javier López, 18, whose voice broke as he spoke of Maradona, who led the national team to what had been its last World Cup title in 1986.

“Diego is certainly smiling now,” Brazil soccer legend Pelé wrote on social media as he congratulated Argentina for the victory.

In Rosario, Messi’s hometown, a sea of people went out into the streets to celebrate that their local hero had finally won a World Cup title.

The national squad led by 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.

President Alberto Fernández joined in on the celebrations and thanked the national team for the victory.

There were also messages of congratulations from Brazil’s president-elect, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, and President Gabriel Boric of Chile.