Buenos Aires: A crestfallen Lionel Messi kept a low profile as thousands of people greeted the Argentina squad on their return home on Monday, just hours after their World Cup final defeat to Germany.
President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner (right) applauds Lionel Messi (left) during a welcoming ceremony. Pic/AFP
Television networks carried live coverage of the Aerolineas Argentinas plane — painted in the blue-and-white colors of the flag with the words "Thank you Argentina" — as it touched down in Buenos Aires, where about 500 fans braved the cold to meet the flight from Rio de Janeiro.
Thousands more fans lined the team's route from the airport, waving sky blue and white flags and swarming the convoy of three buses, which moved at a snail's pace.
Pride and dejection
Nationwide the atmosphere was one of pride as much as disappointment after the team played its first World Cup final since 1990 and Messi claimed the Golden Ball award for best player of the tournament.
"I just want to thank everyone for the welcome," Messi, who spent much of the morning with a pained look on his face, told a reception with President Cristina Kirchner at the offices of the Argentine Football Association.
"I would have liked to have brought home the Cup and enjoyed it with you (the country). We gave everything we had but we just didn't manage it."
Kirchner had the bright energy of a school teacher as she greeted the squad — who in turn resembled pupils shyly trying to keep to the back row and avoid being called on to speak after their 1-0 extra-time loss on Sunday.
She met the team with hugs and set a light tone for the welcome ceremony, teasing striker Gonzalo Higuain, forward Ezequiel 'Pocho' Lavezzi and winger Angel Di Maria, among others.
She drew laughs when she told Higuain he should go to the doctor for an MRI scan after 'keeper Manuel Neuer crashed into him in the second half, an incident that the referee controversially waved away.
Kirchner tried hard to provoke a blush from Lavezzi and Di Maria, often described as the team's best-looking members.
"Pocho, come here, they say you're the sex symbol of the team," she told Lavezzi, trying to persuade him to say a few words.
"Di Maria, come here, the girls are asking for you," she said. But the players were reluctant to take the microphone, and the smiles were fleeting.