BUENOS AIRES (AP) ― Riot police used tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse a group of rock-throwing vandals who disturbed a rally by Argentines celebrating their team’s gutsy performance in a 1-0 loss to Germany in the World Cup finals.
Thousands of Argentines, saddened but proud, had gathered peacefully at the iconic Obelisk in downtown Buenos Aires to applaud their team’s best World Cup performance in 24 years.
Police initially remained on the sidelines as fans poured into downtown Buenos Aires. But late Sunday night they began chasing down vandals. The youths, many of them with their faces covered and drinking heavily, responded by hurling rocks, destroying store fronts, tearing down street lights and even breaking into a theater.
Parents with small children could be seen fleeing in fear. Police said 20 officers were injured and at least 60 people were arrested.
The chaotic situation marred what was an otherwise spontaneous show of support for Argentina’s national team.
The center of festivities was the Obelisk, where fans traditionally gather to celebrate victory, not defeat. Cars honked staccato rhythms, firecrackers were tossed into the air and fans of all ages jumped in place shouting “Argentina! Argentina! Argentina!”
“We have nothing to regret, we played first rate,” said 53-year-old Horacio Laseiras, carrying his 6-year-old daughter on his shoulders.
The two-time world champion entered the title match as the clear underdog after Germany’s 7-1 thrashing of host Brazil. But despite complaints about lackluster play earlier in the tournament, the team led by captain Lionel Messi showed grit throughout the match, creating several opportunities to score in the first 90 minutes.
Amid the outpouring of gratitude, there was a hint of frustration that Messi, the four-time world player of the year, didn’t turn in a stronger performance.