How Argentina’s Victory Parade descended into chaos

Argentina’s World Cup title-winning soccer team ride an open bus during their homecoming parade in Buenos Aires, Argentina – AP

It was supposed to be the day when Argentine fans could finally see their heroes in the flesh. Instead, most of Lionel Messi’s closest five million Buenos Aires supporters looked up as his helicopter circled overhead.

For four hours, the bus carrying the Argentine players crisscrossed the streets of the capital. Beginning on the grounds of the Argentine Football Association compound near the city’s airport, the plan was to drive to the Obelisk, a giant tower in the center of the city that had become the focal point of the celebrations. The bus never arrived.

Excitement over the arrival of the World Cup winners had been building in the city for days. “We always see them on TV,” Gonzalo, 23, a gardener who waits for the bus to arrive, said Tuesday morning. “But now it’s like they’re gods down from the sky.”

Unfortunately for Gonzalo, his gods would soon return to the heavens.

The hints that this wouldn’t be an ordinary celebration were there from the start. In the early hours of Tuesday, after the team landed on a flight from Rome, the bus had taken over an hour to make the 10-minute journey from the airport to the AFA grounds.

Argentina's World Cup title-winning soccer team ride an open bus during their homecoming parade in Buenos Aires, Argentina - AP

Argentina’s World Cup title-winning soccer team ride an open bus during their homecoming parade in Buenos Aires, Argentina – AP

Argentina's Lionel Messi, Rodrigo De Paul, Leandro Paredes and team-mates celebrate on the bus with the World Cup trophy during the Victory Parade - Reuters

Argentina’s Lionel Messi, Rodrigo De Paul, Leandro Paredes and team-mates celebrate on the bus with the World Cup trophy during the Victory Parade – Reuters

During that trip, Messi, Angel Di Maria, Rodrigo De Paul and Leandro Paredes were nearly hit by an overhead wire while sitting in the back of the bus, narrowly avoiding serious injury by dodging seconds before to hit the wire at head height.

On Tuesday afternoon, after insisting, despite concerns about the size of the crowd, the decision was made to abandon the parade at 4 p.m., on the strict advice of the local police.

In the hours that followed, fans attempted to board the bus by jumping off bridges as the vehicle passed. A fan had earlier told Telegraph Sport: “I’m going to jump off the bridge when I see the team.” It was unclear whether the man, wearing a Spiderman mask, had been serious. Even so, it indicated an atmosphere that could change at any time.

Videos circulated showing two fans attempting to board the bus. One reached the upper deck, the second jumped over the stern and into the street. Last night his condition was unclear.

This was the catalyst for the police to call for the parade to be abandoned. The bus was then taken to Parque Roca, a park along the parade route which also houses a tennis stadium, where players including Paulo Dybala and Nahuel Molina were seen boarding helicopters.

The plane then attempted to complete the bus route, before returning to Ezeiza International Airport, where the players had first landed at 2.40am local time. Messi, Dybala and Di Maria then returned to Rosario, a town 300 km northwest of Buenos Aires.

But as the World Cup heroes got away, millions of fans were stuck in the city center and an afternoon of joy threatened to turn into an evening of tension.

Immediate calls for calm came from the office of the president, Alberto Fernandes. “The world champions are flying over the entire course in a helicopter because it has become impossible to continue on land due to the explosion of popular joy,” tweeted Gabriela Cerruti, spokesperson for Fernandez.

As day turned to night, the millions of fans still in the city seemed to heed the warning with a potentially feverish atmosphere remaining calm. Thirty-one people had been injured falling from traffic and street lights after jostling for a vantage point. A fan was seen cheering and waving even as he was carried on a stretcher after sustaining injuries including to his head.

As most of the fans began to disperse, others barricaded themselves inside the obelisk, throwing bottles at the police when they arrived to evict them, leading to the arrest of at least 14 people.

Earlier, before the drive-by became a flyover, the collective energy of the crowd had been chaotic but happy.

Salvador, 22, a gardener, said the players were “like gods from Mount Olympus”. He then posed for a photo with a replica World Cup trophy and admitted he didn’t even know which way they had to walk to see the team because the route had changed so many times. Not that he let that dampen his mood.

A few blocks away, people knocked down fences to open shortcuts on an overpass that was part of the originally planned route. Fans swarmed both sides of the highway, standing between lane barriers, waving huge blue and white flags displaying the Argentinian sun. The sun was setting over the crowds below, scrolling over the asphalt in the humidity and 30-degree heat. Some had stood along the road for hours.

Further down the highway, Mauro, a 28-year-old garbage collector, said the only way to get here from his home in San Martin, a suburb of the capital, was to ride his motorbike. “From this side of Buenos Aires, it’s not possible to come here right now.” he said. “Only on a motorcycle.” He came with his brother and a friend, all of whom were drinking wine with orange juice with large chunks of ice, as they waited for the team in the middle of the highway.

The Argentina soccer team that won the World Cup title rides atop an open bus during its homecoming parade in Buenos Aires - AP

The Argentina soccer team that won the World Cup title rides atop an open bus during its homecoming parade in Buenos Aires – AP

Argentina's soccer team are welcomed home after winning the World Cup tournament in Buenos Aires, Argentina - AP

Argentina’s soccer team are welcomed home after winning the World Cup tournament in Buenos Aires, Argentina – AP

Although people were climbing the overpass signs, the sound of drums filled the air and the roar of the occasional jet pierced the din of football chants celebrating Messi and Diego Maradona.

The families were reunited with the children and the feelings seemed hopeful to finally give the team the welcome they deserved.

Strangers helped mothers with babies in prams up the ramps to the parade route, and many others shared water with those who came less prepared. One mother, Madeline, 31, said: “I am in a euphoric state. i want to ride [on to the overpass]. I want to see something. When asked if she feared for the safety of her family today, she replied: “No, I’m sure we’ll be safe.”

Prior to AFA President Chiqui Tapia’s announcement of the team’s evacuation, the feeling in the streets was happy and hopeful, if confused. Just before the parade, Danillo, 24, a prison guard with a bass drum strapped to his chest, was ready to party. Of winning the World Cup, he said “[This is] a feeling no one will feel until they get it. We are going to have a party to celebrate with all the Argentines with the whole world… this Argentine Cup of Messi, and the team. We’re gonna stay all night to party, party, party!

Danillo probably stayed true to his word – drunk or not drunk.

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