And another superlative: A historical number of more than four million people are on their feet in Buenos Aires alone and welcome the Albiceleste like a champion. They want to see the World Cup. Most must glimpse him in heaven.

The parasol blocks the view of the balcony of the government palace, the Casa Rosada. He has to go. So the responsible person 20 meters away is sung to until he takes it down. It’s short Tuesday at just before 4 p.m. in the Plaza de Mayo. The people are waiting for the world champion. The building is decorated, the sun is beating down from the light blue sky, speaker towers are erected. Everything seems set for a reception like 36 years ago when Diego Maradona presented the World Cup to Argentina.

“We’ve been here since 7 a.m., we were at the obelisk first,” says 23-year-old Lourdes Reyna. “I’ve never experienced Argentina as world champions,” she says, moved and audibly fighting back tears. Next to her is Gabriela Rios, 45 years old. “I saw the previous title as a kid in 1986. The day is burned into my memory.” Now she has brought her son, who was traumatized by the 2014 final.

The ecstasy that gripped the 45 million Argentines after Sunday’s penalty shoot-out has not abated. The government had summarily declared a day off to receive the trophy. More than 4 million people are on the move in Buenos Aires and on the route from the national team camp, Argentine media write that there have never been more people on the streets in the country’s history. When democracy returned in 1983, less than half were.

The team is to drive a circuit, including the 9 de Julio parade street in downtown Buenos Aires, which is about a fifteen-minute walk from the government palace, past the obelisk. But the plans are constantly changing. Everywhere are people, people, people in sky blue and white, they stream down the freeways, squeeze through broad streets, sit on lanterns, balconies and the surrounding roofs, they dance, light bengalos, drums mix with songs. Maradona, wearing an Arabic hat, looks down at the crowd from a facade.

A little off the beaten path, retailers sell T-shirts with Lionel Messi’s “What are you looking at, idiot” slogan and jerseys with the third star; a small replica of the World Cup trophy costs 500 pesos, about 1.20 euros, a large one ten times as much. From art prints, Messi looks as a savior or an apostle, or in it at Diego Maradona, with whom he stands before the pantheon of the gods. The two can be seen on a larger-than-life mural on a street corner. The color shines fresh.

Messi and the others set off at midday, but their open-top bus creeps along, slowed down by the crowd eager to experience a piece of history. In the inner city, people can be informed about what’s going on by acquaintances and relatives who are sitting at home in front of the television screen – if they have a bit of internet access that is completely overwhelmed by the information load. It is most likely the most frequently asked question that day: where is the trophy? The search for the answer turns into a scavenger hunt.

Two siblings are sitting in the shade of the median, drinking Fernet Branca with Cola and in no hurry. “We wanted to see the players, but apparently they changed the route,” says 32-year-old Daiana Pandiella. “But it doesn’t matter, we’re world champions!” And laughs from the bottom of her face. “There are many differences in this country, but football is what unites us,” adds her younger brother Nahuel Peralta. Many Argentines are doing poorly economically, so a reason to be happy like the title is sorely needed.

Suddenly, four warplanes sweep across the parade street and perform maneuvers around the huge likeness of Evita PerĂ³n that is attached to the facade of the Ministry of Social Affairs: It was later said in the media that it was a tribute to the world champions. Meanwhile, the crew slowly divides the crowds. At some point their bus turns off, and the team has managed half of the 30 kilometers to the epicenter of the celebrations in about four hours.

Those responsible doubt that the bus will get through. The madness on the Autobahn drives the world champions to heaven. They are now boarding helicopters. When the helicopters appear at the government palace, cheers break out, the flags circle, the spray confetti clouds the view of the balcony. “Come, come sing with me,” they all demand, jumping, “because you will find a friend / hand in hand / with Leo Messi / we’ll go all the way”.

Everyone knows that there is a helipad behind the government palace, and the World Cup and the team have never been closer. But nobody uses it. The helicopters turn away again. Argentinian media had already suspected that the team would not be seen in the government palace. She wants to prevent her visit from having a political dimension.

After endless minutes of waiting, the news comes from the informants at home: The Albiceleste has flown back to the national team headquarters. Lourdes Reyna and Gabriela Rios are disappointed, at some point they turn around and leave like many others. You won’t see the team or the trophy here. But at least they could guess Messi in the sky. For there he floated.

(This article was first published on Wednesday, December 21, 2022.)