BUENOS AIRES, Argentina – Soccer-obsessed Argentines awoke to the sound of banging drums and a sea of national flags waving from buildings, still dreaming about winning the World Cup but cautious of their powerful rival Germany in Sunday's final.
Argentina last played in a World Cup final in 1990, when it lost to West Germany. Four years earlier, it became world champion for the second time led by captain Diego Maradona, also in a final against the Germans.
Businesses around the country plan to be closed during the game, and in the capital thousands of fans are expected to pour into the streets to watch the game on giant screens. Many people got ready for game day celebrations by stocking up Saturday night on beef for traditional barbeques known as asados.
Over the weekend, hundreds of national flags in sky-blue and white were hoisted along normally busy avenues that will come to a standstill during the match.
Giant posters with a smiling captain Lionel Messi seemed to greet passers-by on almost every corner of Buenos Aires, where Argentina jerseys were among the most sold items in sports stores.
Even a version for dogs — stamped with Messi's number 10 — was nearly sold out a boutique for pets. "We've sold it all — we only have two shirts left," said Karen Reichart, owner of the "Amores Perros" store.
"Argentina is a football-mad country. I'm not afraid of Germany," said Reichart, who was traveling early Sunday to watch the final at Rio de Janeiro's Maracana Stadium.
The shot at the title has united Argentines otherwise exasperated by one of the world's highest inflation rates, an encroaching debt crisis and a corruption scandal that has penetrated deep into President Cristina Fernandez's inner circle.
Fernandez, whose approval rating has plunged in recent months, has kept a low profile during the tournament. She declined an invitation to attend the final, preferring instead to rest ahead of a summit Tuesday, also in Brazil, with leaders from Russia, India and China.
"In Argentina even the political turmoil has been covered up because it's huge that we're back in the final after 24 years," Reichart said. "We obviously want the Cup but being (in the final) is already amazing."
On a message posted on Facebook on the eve of the match, Messi seemed to sum up the nation's thoughts: "Tomorrow we'll play the most important game of our lives with this shirt."