Lusail, Qatar – They leaped into the air. Their fists pumped in delight. Finally it was all over, and they had won.
Gonzalo Montiel had just scored the decisive penalty for Argentina to defeat France in the dramatic final of the World Cup in Qatar and become champions once again after their last triumph in Mexico 36 years ago.
In the stands of packed Lusail Stadium on Sunday, those in blue and white screamed and hugged in an explosion of relief and jubilation. What had preceded were 120 minutes of nail biting normal time and extra-time action, which saw France twice come from behind to send the 3-3 deadlock into a penalty shootout.
“I can’t describe the feelings I have right now,” Argentina fan Pablo Ramirez told Al Jazeera with tears in his eyes shortly after captain Lionel Messi lifted the trophy.
“It’s the best day of my life,” said the 34-year-old, who made the journey to Qatar from Argentina’s capital, Buenos Aires.
“Finally, we are champions again,” the businessman said. “It’s been too long. … I thought France would win after that comeback. I was shaking so much.”
He wasn’t the only one.
Argentina coach Lionel Scaloni was also visibly emotional as he dedicated the victory to his parents.
“I cannot believe that we have suffered so much in a perfect game,” he told reporters after the final. “Unbelievable, but this team responds to everything.”
“I am proud of the work they did. With the blows we received today, this makes you emotional. I want to tell people to enjoy. It’s a historic moment for our country.”
The match – arguably the most thrilling World Cup final ever – had almost everything.
Argentina took the lead in the 23rd minute when Messi scored from the penalty spot to become the first player to find the net in all four knockout rounds at the same World Cup.
They widened their lead in the 36th minute when winger Angel Di Maria finished a superb team move that started on Argentina’s half.
La Albiceleste remained in control until about 10 minutes before the end of normal time when French superstar Kylian Mbappe pulled one back from the penalty spot.
And less than two minutes later, Mbappe stunned the Argentina fans with a second goal, which sent the game into extra time.
Messi responded with his second goal of the night in the 108th minute to put Argentina up 3-2, but a handball in the box by Montiel gave Mbappe the chance to convert his second penalty and France to level again.
In the shootout, Argentina keeper Emiliano Martinez saved Kingsley Coman’s spot kick while Aurelien Tchouameni also missed the target for France before Montiel scored Argentina’s fourth penalty to end it all.
Argentina fan Carlos Ruiz said he had never felt so nervous in his life.
“My heart was in my throat,” he said in describing his emotions after France’s equaliser during normal time.
“I could barely sit still,” said Ruiz, who grew up near Buenos Aires but now resides in Tampa, Florida. “It was a nerve-wrecking but an incredible match, and for Messi to win it finally in his last World Cup, … he is definitely now as big as Diego [Maradona].”
The seven-time Ballon d’Or winner had won all there is to win as part of a football team – except the most coveted prize of all.
“It’s insane that it happened this way,” Messi, 35, told reporters after the match. “I really wanted this. I knew God was going to give it to me. Now I will enjoy it.”
“Look at this trophy,” the Paris Saint-Germain forward said. “It’s beautiful. We suffered a lot, but we did it. I can’t wait to be in Argentina to see how crazy this is going to be.”
Argentina fan Augusto Fasio felt the same.
“I can’t wait to fly back home,” the Mar de Plata resident told Al Jazeera in Qatar. “I want to be with my people when the team comes home. We will be partying for a week.”