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Argentina celebrates its first World Cup title in 36 years

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Now, if you don't follow soccer yourself, you may still have heard the screaming yesterday, people celebrating Argentina's win in the World Cup final against France. For many people around the world, Argentina was the sentimental favorite because the star player, Lionel Messi, said it would be his final World Cup and thus his last chance to win. He was a dominant player in an incredibly close game, but the excitement elsewhere around the world was minor compared with the excitement in Argentina. NPR's Carrie Kahn is there.

UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: (Singing in Spanish).

CARRIE KAHN, BYLINE: Tens of thousands settled into a Buenos Aires park in the capital's north side. Massive screens projected the game as many searched for shade under the summer sun. Lucas Robles, his friend Sabrina and her daughter were lucky to snag a spot under a huge tree.

LUCAS ROBLES: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: "I'm just anxious, very nervous but trying to be hopeful," said Robles as the match got underway. Like nearly everyone here, the three were wearing the light blue and white striped jerseys of Argentina's national team, all with a 10 on the back, Lionel Messi's number, Argentina's captain and star forward.

ROBLES: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: "We really want something to celebrate," he said, "and bring us together." Robles believed it would be Messi, who, at 35, had said it would be his last attempt to win a World Cup.

(CHEERING)

KAHN: And for the first half of the game, the crowd cheered on with two goals to none.

ROBLES: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: "This is just incredible. It's contagious. We need this release," he said. Times have been really hard. He lost his job during the pandemic and started driving for Uber. Every day, he says, his paycheck stays the same, but everything else goes up.

ROBLES: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: "Yet you still have to get up and keep working, not knowing what the economy will bring," he says. Inflation here is nearly 100%. The peso is practically worthless, and nearly 40% of Argentines now live in poverty.

(CROSSTALK)

KAHN: By late in the second half, though, the country's cathartic release was cut off as France scored back-to-back goals. With the match moving in to penalties, Robles slumped against the tree. His friend held her face in her hand, and the disappointment felt all too familiar.

(CHEERING)

KAHN: But the team pulled off the victory, and the park erupted.

(Speaking Spanish).

ROBLES: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: Robles said he was experiencing total happiness, everyone together, including Alvina Cheso, who was hoarse from hours of screaming.

ALVINA CHESO: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: "Messi finally did it. We did it," she said. And soon the throngs were pouring out of the park and into the streets.

(SOUNDBITE OF HORN HONKING)

KAHN: Parties sprung up everywhere. Jorge Moulda said he broke down in tears seeing Messi finally hold the World Cup trophy. Argentines haven't always been kind to Messi, who they've blamed over the years for the long drought to victory.

JORGE MOULDA: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: But Moulda insists he never doubted Messi. "We love him, love him," he says.

UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: (Singing in Spanish).

KAHN: And as this new song goes, sung by teens crammed into a nearby convenience store, Messi made their dreams come true. Carrie Kahn, NPR News, Buenos Aires. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Carrie Kahn is NPR's International Correspondent based in Mexico City, Mexico. She covers Mexico, the Caribbean, and Central America. Kahn's reports can be heard on NPR's award-winning news programs including All Things Considered, Morning Edition and Weekend Edition, and on NPR.org.