Millions of people took to the streets of Buenos Aires Tuesday to celebrate Argentina's World Cup title, disrupting a planned parade route and forcing Lionel Messi and his teammates to abandon an open-top bus to instead fly over the city in helicopters.
The football-crazed country has been overwhelmed with jubilant celebrations since Sunday when Argentina beat France for its third World Cup title, and first in 36 years. After crowds swarmed the team bus upon arrival at 3 a.m. at the airport, the planned trip through the city at midday was interrupted with at least 4 million people in the streets, according to Clarin.
A video shared on social media showed a fan dropping from a bridge onto the team bus carrying Messi with another missing the vehicle and falling into the crowd. Around the same time, Chiqui Tapia, the head of the Football Association, said they were unable to continue by bus and apologized to supporters who turned out early.
Enzo Fernandez, a midfielder on the team, posted a picture of himself in a helicopter with a headset on and a presidential spokeswoman confirmed the players were flying over the crowds since the roads were clogged due to the "explosion of happiness."
After President Alberto Fernandez decreed a national holiday for the celebrations, wild scenes broadcast on local TV have shown people filling highway bridges, climbing light posts and vehicles while singing and waving shirts and flags in the nation of 46 million. The poor planning and security failure to protect the team bus is likely to prompt finger-pointing in the aftermath.
The celebration provides a much-needed distraction for Argentines who are struggling with an economic crisis of high inflation, a weakening currency and tight capital controls.
The players have been reluctant to meet government authorities in order to avoid mixing politics with sports. A visit to the presidential palace was ruled out by the football federation earlier in the day. When their plane touched down in the early hours of Tuesday at the international airport, Messi didn't greet Interior Minister Eduardo de Pedro, who was waiting for the team on the tarmac.
Argentina's political situation is highly polarized and a picture of politicians with Messi, a local hero who is widely considered one of the greatest players of all time, could have unexpected consequences ahead of general elections in October. The ruling Peronist coalition has seen approval ratings decline as annual inflation accelerates to close to 100%.