BUENOS AIRES: Germany broke the heart of a nation on Sunday, leaving millions of disconsolate Argentines to contemplate a defeat that deprived the South American country of its first World Cup win in almost three decades.
In downtown Buenos Aires’ San Martin park, a boisterous crowd was stunned into silence by a Mario Goetze volley in extra-time which gave Germany a 1-0 win in the World Cup final in Rio de Janeiro.
Distraught fans held their heads in their hands as the final minutes ticked down.
“It’s another slap in the face. There is no more joy, but we came out second and were not shamed in Brazil,” said 40-year-old Eduardo Manfredi.
The hopes of 40-million people had been heaped on the shoulders of the national side – in particular Lionel Messi, who picked up the ‘Golden Ball’ as top player of the tournament, and in-form goal keeper Sergio Romero.
Hours before the game started, fans in the soccer-obsessed capital streamed along the city’s boulevards blowing vuvuzela horns and banging drums, while some even dressed up their pampered pooches in soccer strips tailor made for dogs.
Argentina last won the World Cup in 1986 when they beat West Germany in the final.
Its run to the 2014 final handed Argentines welcome respite from newspaper headlines dominated in recent weeks by a brewing debt crisis, surging inflation and political scandal.
“I’m full of grief, it’s hard to explain,” lamented 56-year-old carpenter Luis Lanzzoni.
Argentine midfielder Javier Mascherano said he shared the nation’s pain.
“We are gutted,” he said. “We gave what we could and we are sorry for the people who came and for the people in Argentina.”
“Quite simply, thank you”
Despite the disappointment, tens of thousands of supporters streamed to the capital’s iconic Obelisk monument waving the national flag, determined to party in celebration of reaching the final on the turf of their arch soccer rivals, Brazil.
Fans climbed onto bus stops and scaled lamp posts as chants of “Argentina, Argentina” rang out, while fireworks exploded overhead.
In a country polarized by a decade of politics under the populist president Cristina Fernandez and her predecessor, Fernandez’s late husband Nestor Kirchner, the national soccer team is a rare unifier.
“I feel proud to be Argentine. To wear this shirt on the day of a final is priceless,” said university student Marcelo Dailoff. “The players brought joy to Argentina after so long. Quite simply, thank you.”
Fans took comfort from seeing their side avoid the same kind of humiliating score inflicted on hosts Brazil. Germany thumped seven goals past a hapless Brazilian team in their semi-final.
Messi and his team-mates are expected to arrive back in Buenos Aires on Monday morning, when thousands are sure to line the city’s wide avenues.
“The players put everything into the game, their hearts and souls. They lost the best way possible, not like Brazil who were smashed to smithereens,” said 32-year-old Lorena Hak.
“I’m going to the airport to welcome them home and thank them for everything, they deserve it.”