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July 28, 2017

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Thousands welcome Argentina home after World Cup

BUENOS AIRES -- A crestfallen Lionel Messi kept a low profile as thousands welcomed the Argentina squad home Monday after a World Cup Final defeat to Germany.

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 flags and swarming the convoy of three buses, which moved at a snail's pace through the crowds.

Nationwide, the atmosphere was one of pride as much as disappointment after the team forced Germany into extra time in a hard-fought 1-0 match in Rio de Janeiro's Maracana Stadium.

"I just want to thank everyone for the welcome," Messi, who spent much of the day 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 met the team with hugs and tried to get a smile out of them, 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 German keeper Manuel Neuer crashed into him in the second half, an incident 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."

But the players were reluctant to take the microphone, and the smiles were fleeting.

"It's very nice when people recognize what you do. We would have loved to bring home the Cup but we weren't able to," said Lavezzi.

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