BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (AP) — Soccer has once again emerged as the patriotic touchstone that unites Argentines as they teeter on the precipice, this time threatened by a debt crisis, soaring inflation and the scandal-plagued end to a 12-year political dynasty that has polarized the nation.
The country's World Cup semifinal victory over the Netherlands in a penalty shootout unleashed a collective catharsis on Buenos Aires' streets Wednesday night the likes of which Argentines have rarely seen in recent times.
Coinciding with Independence Day celebrations, tens of thousands of Argentines dressed in blue and white partied well past midnight in cities across the country.
"We're all in this battle together going forward," said Osvaldo Darica, owner of a newspaper kiosk in Buenos Aires.
Darica said he is thrilled to see the recent torrent of depressing headlines about rampant crime and one of the world's highest inflation rates replaced by front-page photos of goalkeeper Sergio Romero, or Saint Romero as he's now lionized, deflecting two Dutch penalty kicks.
Soccer legend Diego Maradona also wrapped himself in the flag.
"Look at us there, there's no distinction, we're all Argentines," he told Venezuela's Telesur network while watching images of jubilant fans engulfing Buenos Aires' iconic Obelisk. "How marvelous and beautiful it is to make people happy."
Amid the nationalist fervor, one prominent voice has been missing: that of President Cristina Fernandez.
Sidelined the past week with a throat infection, the normally loquacious leader has yet to comment on Argentina's dramatic win. Not even on Twitter, where she's a constant presence. Late Thursday, she posted a letter declining Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff's invitation to attend the final in Rio de Janeiro, saying she's under doctor's orders to reduce air travel and wants to spend the day celebrating her grandson's first birthday.
Analysts say that Fernandez's silence may be well-placed, and that any attempt to reap political benefit from the national team's run is likely to be short-lived or even backfire given how low support for her government has plunged with a corruption scandal penetrating her inner circle.
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