Argentines ‘already feel like champions’
Argentines were in a dazed dreamland on Wednesday in the heady aftermath of a soccer World Cup victory that sets the country up for a final showdown on Sunday and the chance to win the tournament for the first time since Diego Maradona in 1986.
The South Americans, two times World Cup winners, roared past Croatia 3-0 on Tuesday, which saw tens of thousands of fans flood the streets of Buenos Aires with blue-and-white flags, jerseys and banners of Maradona and current star Lionel Messi.
After a slow start at the World Cup in Qatar, falling to a shock defeat by Saudi Arabia in their opening match, Argentina's bid for victory has gained pace, drawing huge crowds in stadiums around Doha and at home as fans begin to believe.
"It's something that stops your heart, the world stops," said Lucia Gonzalez, a 19-year-old student in Buenos Aires as she walked through the streets of the capital.
"You hear everyone's screams, the songs, see how they encourage the national team. If we win or lose now, we already feel like champions and that for me is a lot, reaching the final is a lot. It's a joy that erases everything."
The country of some 45 million people has been suffering a turbulent period economically, with inflation heading towards 100%, high levels of poverty and recent currency and debt crises hurting economic growth and investment.
But soccer is offering some people a way to forget their troubles in a land where late star Maradona is still revered in huge murals and tattoos, and where Messi is starting to gain the same status with huge performance driving the team forward.
"The truth is that the country is in a very difficult situation, so it is a relief for the hearts of all Argentines," said Mauro Gonzalez, a 29-year-old worker in the capital.
"It makes us forget a little about all the problems that we Argentines have to face every day."
On Wednesday the state airline said new flights it had opened up to Qatar were being sold out in minutes as fans hoped to get to see their team victorious. Argentina will play France or Morocco, who compete for a final place later on Wednesday.
"What can I tell you, there is no explanation, it is something very exciting," said Argentine fan Javier Dure. "What the national team is doing now is incredible."