In the North End, grown men cried. Strangers kissed. One man grabbed a young woman he had never met and swung her around as she laughed.
Seconds after Italian defender Fabio Grosso clinched the Azzurri's World Cup victory with a penalty kick , pandemonium struck Hanover Street.
Fireworks went off in the air, frightening police horses. Queen's ``We are the Champions" blared from apartment windows. Overheated fans ripped off their royal blue Italia shirts and joyfully threw water on one another. Everyone , it seemed, was Italian.
``This is so big," said Angela Cornacchio , 25, of East Boston, who watched the game at Cafe Graffiti with her roommates. She prayed throughout the final minutes, looking skyward often as if seeking divine assistance.
When the Azzurri finally won, she burst into tears.
``It's not like an NBA championship or World Series," she said, a little breathless. ``This happens only every four years. It's your pride. It's your country. It's your heart. It's your blood."
The last time the North End celebrated like this was 1982, when Italy overcame West Germany, 3-1. After watching the game back then in cafes on small TV sets with rabbit ears, fans flooded Hanover Street and stayed until midnight. North Ender Damien DiPaola, who was in this mid-20s then, remembered how he and his friends hosed down the sweating crowd.
Yesterday, he and the same two friends who were with him 24 years ago threw buckets of ice water on to the crowd, from the windows of his second-story Hanover Street apartment.
``Tonight, they'll be out till midnight," DiPaola, 44, said. ``This is an all-night party. This ain't stopping. People are dancing, kissing. . . . It's unbelievable."
Blocks away, on City Hall plaza, thousands earlier had converged to watch the game on an enormous screen city officials had erected for an outdoor celebration.
The crowd included families, teenagers and twentysomethings, couples in their 50s and 60s, die-hard fans, and curious onlookers.
``People are attracted to the international aspect of the game," said Sharon Reilly, a Fort Point Channel neighborhood resident, who came to City Hall Plaza with her husband, Hugh, to photograph the crowd. ``It's like coming to the dinner table and tasting all the different dishes each country has to offer."
Shortly after Italy won around 4:30 p.m., fans funneled toward Hanover Street to join the party. Fans of the French team, their faces painted blue, white, and red, became scarce.
But Les Bleus fans had been feeling optimistic. At Felt, a Washington Street club, women wore French flags as skirts.
When Zinedine Zidane, the French captain, scored on a penalty kick early in the game, fans at Felt jumped to their feet and sang the team chant, ``Allez on Bleus."
``The Italians, they always foul, now they deserve it," sniffed Back Bay resident Claude Diallo, who hobbled to the club despite a twisted ankle -- an injury he suffered after Italy beat Germany and zealous fans stepped on his leg.
Even when Zidane was kicked out of the game for a vicious head butt into an Italian player, Les Bleus loyalists remained hopeful.
``France will win 4 to 1," said Max Zarca, 14, who was visiting Boston from his home outside Geneva.
Optimism soon turned into bitter disappointment. At Felt, where hundreds of people had stood shoulder to shoulder cheering on the French, there were no blows, even when the only three Italia fans in the crowd whooped their joy.
``France played well, and nobody expected that they would get to the finals," Diallo said, his voice resigned. ``I'm really disappointed."
Despite the noisy, raucous street partying, police reported no arrests. The heat overwhelmed some people, who were treated by emergency responders at the scene. In the North End, police periodically cut swaths through crowds to make sure people could walk down Hanover Street.
Ambulances were stationed on Hanover Street as the celebration wore on.
Alfredo Speziale, who stood on Hanover Street on the same spot he stood when the Azzurri won in 1982, said people should get used to more Italian victories in future World Cups.
He clutched a necklace of garlic he had worn during the game to ``ward off evil" and held a horn made out of an ox's tusk.
``This is a horn to call for everybody to know this is the beginning of an era," he said. He blew into the horn, its sound fading into the deafening cheers of the crowd.
``We are the winners," he beamed.
Maria Cramer can be reached at email@example.com.