Hundreds of fans gathered in cities across Argentina Sunday to celebrate their team’s victorious return from the 2021 Copa America, where they beat Brazil on home turf.
The Argentinian Football Association (AFA) had not planned any official celebration given the coronavirus epidemic, which had caused the country to pull out of co-hosting the tournament, which then went to even worse-hit Brazil.
Lionel Messi and his team arrived home in Buenos Aires Sunday morning on a private flight from Rio de Janeiro, and submitted to coronavirus tests.
In two buses emblazoned with the words “Champions of America 2021” and the number 15 — for Argentina’s number of Copa America wins — the team was escorted from the airport by police as hundreds supporters gathered along the highway, waving and cheering.
“Beautiful, beautiful. And thank you, because the people needed it,” exclaimed one fan, Emilio Navarro.
After a quick show at the AFA headquarters in Buenos Aires, the victorious players went their different ways, without fanfare.
Messi left the AFA in a car accompanied by police motorcycles, avoiding dozens of gathered fans, and headed for his home city of Rosario, according to television images.
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After the match Saturday night, crowds thronged the Obelisk monument in Buenos Aires — a traditional gathering place for Argentinian celebrations and commemorations.
The last time crowds had gathered at the Obelisk was November 2020, when star footballer Diego Maradona died.
Cars took to the Avenida 9 de Julio in the early hours, hooting festively, as hundreds of ecstatic fans gathered in the city center, waving flags, hugging and singing as police kept a close watch.
There were similar celebrations in other major cities, including Rosario.
But many fans were not wearing face masks, raising fears the celebrations will cause a hike in coronavirus infections.
Argentina, with a population of 45 million, has one of the highest coronavirus infection and death rates in the world, with more than 98,000 lives lost.
Brazil is the country with the world’s second-highest reported Covid-19 death toll at more than 530,000, and many were shocked and surprised when the Copa was moved there.
Brazilian star Neymar on Sunday congratulated his “brother” Messi for his first trophy with the Argentinian side.
“I hate to lose, but enjoy this title, football was waiting for you to have this moment,” the player wrote on Instagram.