Thousands of people greeted a crestfallen Lionel Messi and the rest of the Argentina team when the squad flew home to Buenos Aires on Monday after the FIFA World Cup™ Final defeat to Germany.

Television networks carried live coverage of the plane, painted in the blue and white colours of the flag with the words "Thank you Argentina", as it touched down.

Coach Alejandro Sabella led the team off the plane and onto three buses that took them to be welcomed by President Cristina Kirchner at the nearby offices of the Argentine Football Association, an event that was closed to the media.

"We gave everything we had," Sabella said as he crossed the tarmac at Ezeiza International Airport. Team members left the plane with grim expressions and had few if any words for waiting journalists.

We gave everything we had.

Alejandro Sabella, Argentina coach

"I would have liked a different kind of homecoming," said midfielder Javier Mascherano, one of the star performers in the run to Sunday's final.  But to their adoring fans, the team were heroes for battling Germany to the bitter end of a nail-biting 1-0 defeat in extra time.

"We came to support the team because they gave everything for us and they deserve our support," said Matias Ruiz, 17, one of about 500 fans who braved the cold to greet the team's charter flight from Rio de Janeiro.

Thousands more fans lined the team's route from the airport, waving sky blue and white flags and swarming the convoy, which moved forward at a snail's pace. Nationwide, the atmosphere was one of pride as much as disappointment after the team played its first World Cup final since 1990 and Lionel Messi claimed the FIFA Golden Ball award for best player of the tournament.

Newspaper Pagina/12 ran two large photographs, one of the Argentine players locked in an embrace at Rio's Maracana Stadium, the other of a little boy in a Messi jersey sitting atop his father's shoulders at the iconic Obelisk monument in the Argentine capital after the match. "Love is stronger," said its banner headline.

"It was still a good World Cup. Reaching the final against Germany isn't too bad. I'm proud of the team," said Leandro Paredes, a 27-year-old mason. Argentines found consolation in knowing they had at least done better than arch rivals and hosts Brazil, who finished in fourth place.

"Brazil, tell me how it feels to have your daddy in your house," the crowd at the airport gloated, the song that was Argentina's unofficial anthem throughout the World Cup. Others sang "I'm Argentine, go Argentina, every day I love you a little more."