Argentina's gutsy team welcomed home
BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (AP):
Argentina's national team was welcomed home on Monday by thousands of fans celebrating their gutsy performance in the World Cup final.
The team arrived in Buenos Aires on a plane painted with images of the players and a large sign reading: "Thank you Argentina."
A river of emotional fans wearing the white and sky-blue striped jerseys of the national team, among them a group of Argentine gauchos on horses, flooded the road leading from the airport to the football association complex.
"You showed that through courage, passion and bringing everything you have and more to the field you can triumph," President Cristina Fernandez said after greeting all members of the team at the complex with a hug and a pat on the back.
"You've given us values that Argentines, surrounded by so much triumphalism, thought were lost. Not only does the one in first place win; you also win when you show quality and manage to unite with others to go forward," Fernandez said. "That's why I wanted to greet you today and thank you on behalf of 40 million proud Argentines."
The two-time world champions entered the title match as the clear underdog after Germany's 7-1 thrashing of hosts Brazil. But despite complaints about lacklustre play earlier in the tournament, the team, led by captain Lionel Messi, showed grit throughout the 1-0 overtime loss to Germany, creating several opportunities to score in the first 90 minutes.
"I'm thankful to everyone. I would have liked to bring you back the Cup and to be able to enjoy it. We tried, we gave it our all but we couldn't achieve it," said Messi, who won the trophy for the tournament's best player.
"Despite that, I think we gave a great joy to the country by reaching this final and facing our rivals without giving anything away."
Argentina last played in a World Cup final in 1990, when they lost to West Germany. Four years earlier, they became world champions for the second time, led by captain Diego Maradona, also in a final against the Germans.
The shot at the title united Argentines otherwise exasperated by one of the world's highest inflation rates, an encroaching debt crisis and a corruption scandal that has penetrated deep into the president's inner circle.
Fernandez, whose approval rating has plunged in recent months, kept a low profile during the tournament. She declined an invitation to attend the final, preferring instead to rest ahead of a summit yesterday, also in Brazil, with leaders from Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa.