BUENOS AIRES: With Argentina reaching fever pitch just hours before Lionel Messi and his teammates take on France in the World Cup final, football fans throughout the country felt a sense of destiny brewing.
From Jujuy in the north to Chubut, some 2,800 kilometers to the south, from Mendoza at the foot of the Andes mountain range in the west to Mar del Plata on the Atlantic coast, the country was preparing to rejoice at a much sought after third world title — 36 years after their last one.
At the Obelisk monument in central Buenos Aires where fans usually flock to celebrate the team's victories, dozens jumped up and down singing songs as passing drivers honked their car horns on Friday, with the final still 18 hours away.
"I feel very proud to be Argentine, I know Messi will bring home the cup," said Franco Llanos, 22, decked out in Argentina shirt, blue and white joker's hat, draped in a flag and carrying a plastic replica of the World Cup trophy.
"My passion is wooo-ooo-ooo!"
Carina Disanzo, 44, who was wearing Messi's number 10 jersey in the historic Boca neighborhood, said the team "absolutely" deserves to win.
"If what we all hope happens, it's going to be a huge party but even if it doesn't happen there's going to be a huge party because we're in the final with the best player in the world," she said.
"It's a really football country, what happens in Argentina ... on the pitch, in the stands, with the people, doesn't happen anywhere else."
The Argentine capital was a sea of blue and white jerseys, most bearing Messi's number 10, flags, painted faces, hats and other memorabilia.
Vendors were making a packet, with Raul Machuca, 22, saying face paint and flags were selling like hot cakes at the Melu store in central Buenos Aires where he works.
With Christmas around the corner, he said it was a double boon for the shop.
In some major avenues, the city council had painted pedestrian crossings in the national team's blue and white stripes.
Foreign football fans were also getting in on the act.
English friends Josh Gwilt, 27, and Greg Layhe, 28, were traveling in Brazil but decided to switch their itinerary to Buenos Aires "on a whim."
"When are you ever going to be in South America and get to see Argentina in the final of a World Cup," said Gwilt, who was wearing the goalkeeper's jersey of Emiliano Martinez.
Layhe, wearing a Messi shirt, said they had partly decided to put on their jerseys as a precaution, given the historic bad blood between England and Argentina both on and off the pitch.
Even so, he said he was firmly behind Argentina, especially Messi, who has won everything in the game except this.
"We all hope he wins the World Cup, even some French fans we've spoken to have been semi-torn because it would be an amazing end to his career. I think he's the greatest player of all time and deserves to win the World Cup," said Layhe.
Puerto Rican couple Lilly Oronoz and Antonio Secola, both 51, had also come to Argentina for the game.
"Us Latinos are very supportive," said Oronoz. "Everyone for Messi, everyone for Argentina."
"It's for the passion, we've got more passion, and the conviction that they will win," added Secola.
At midnight from Saturday to Sunday, Argentina's main television channels were due to mark 12 hours to kick off with a special rendition of the national anthem recorded by the players themselves in Qatar, with goosebumps guaranteed.
Football is one of only two things in a politically polarized country with huge wealth disparities that brings all people together.
"This national team and the Falklands united us," said Edgar Esteban, a veteran of the 1982 war with Britain over the Falkland Islands in the South Atlantic and director of the Malvinas Museum in Buenos Aires. — AFP