Argentinians play football on Copacabana beach in Rio de Janeiro. Argentina set up a massive nationwide party on Sunday for the World Cup final against Germany. Photo: Gabriel Bouys

Buenos Aires – Argentina set up a massive nationwide party on Sunday, closing streets and setting up giant screens across the country for the World Cup final against Germany.

The match featuring national hero Lionel Messi is one of the most important match in the football-mad nation’s history, and Argentines could speak of little else as they loaded up on food and drink and went through pre-game rituals.

“Out of superstition, I’m going to wear a shirt that I haven’t washed since the World Cup started and that I’ve worn for every match since we kicked off against Bosnia,” said Martin Gonzalez, a 35-year-old engineer, as he stocked up on beer in Buenos Aires’s upscale Palermo neighborhood.

Argentina treats football with the reverence of a religion. The national team however has not been to the World Cup final since 1990, and has not won it since 1986.

Winning in Brazil would be a huge boost for national self-esteem at a time when Argentina is mired in economic troubles and struggle to pay defaulted debt.

“I’m living these final hours in a state of extreme anxiety, nerves, hope, emotion and anguish. For Argentina, it’s the greatest thing that could possibly happen, not just on the level of football but as a country,” said German Vazquez, a 33-year-old real estate broker.

An estimated 100 000 Argentines are expected in Rio de Janeiro on Sunday, taking charter jets or driving in convoys of cars. Many made the six-hour trip from Sao Paulo where Argentina beat the Netherlands in the semi-final on Wednesday.

Back home, their compatriots are plotting the best spot to watch on TV and decking the country out in sky blue and white.

The heart of the party is Plaza San Martin in Buenos Aires, where 50 000 people gathered for the semi-final and many more are expected to watch the final – if rain that drenched the city on Saturday lets up.

If Argentina wins, millions of people are expected to descend on the capital’s iconic Obelisk in celebration, rain or not.

Police said they would post extra officers around the monument in the event of an Argentine victory.

The city is setting up jumbo TV screens for the fans, including one at Plaza San Martin that measures 26 square metres and another in Centenario Park that measures 66 square meters.

Street vendors and shops are selling so many $20 counterfeit jerseys – the authentic official jersey costs nearly $100 – that they have had to place special orders for more, said saleswoman Ana Maria Gutierrez.

In residential suburbs, Argentine flags sprouted on balconies in abundance, while stores that normally stay open well into the night posted signs saying they would close one to two hours before the match.

Even the city subway has been swept up in the excitement, displaying a “Let’s go Argentina!” message on digital screens at station entrances.

Across the country, communities were planning day-long festivals building up to the match.

From Guaymallen in the west to Gualeguaychu in the east, cities and towns organised children’s activities, theatre festivals, concerts, football tournaments and fairs.

Foreign journalists have descended on the country seeking the best spots to chronicle the excitement.

Hotels around the Obelisk and Plaza San Martin are charging $500 to $800 a night for the rooms with the best views of the festivities.

Messi and his teammates are expected to arrive back in Buenos Aires on Monday morning – either to a massive party and parade to the city centre, or to the heartbreak of 40 million disappointed fans. – Sapa-AFP