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 May 17, 2002 | 1213 IST

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Madrid brought to a standstill by European Cup heroes

Simon Baskett

The Spanish capital was brought to a standstill when Real Madrid returned home to a heroes' welcome on Thursday following their record ninth European Cup triumph.

A hectic day of official celebrations was brought to an end with a massive party at the club's Santiago Bernabeu stadium whose 75,000 capacity was stretched to the limit to accommodate fans wanting to join in the festivities and pay homage to the team.

Each of the club's nine European Cup victories was commemorated in the party which climaxed with an ear-shattering firework display and a lap of honour by the team, accompanied, appropriately enough, by the strains of Beethoven's ninth symphony.

Earlier thousands of jubilant fans lined the route taken by the club's open-top bus from the airport to the city centre where the team were given a series of official receptions by local government dignitaries.

Traffic ground to a halt as cars pulled in and honked their horns before letting the all-white double-decker bus emblazoned with the number nine speed past, together with its escort of siren-blaring motorbikes.

Curious office workers peered out of tower blocks in the hope of catching a glimpse of the team, fans dangled flags and scarves from the bridges along the route, while many more decided to congregate in the city's Puerta del Sol where the team made its first official stop.

The players, led by club captain Fernando Hierro and striker Raul, later emerged on the balcony of the city's town hall to show off the massive silver trophy to the delirious fans.


Zinedine Zidane, the star of Wednesday's triumph against Bayer Leverkusen with his spectacular winning goal, kept a characteristically low profile, but the constant chants of "Zizou, Zizou" eventually forced the quietly-spoken Frenchman to hold the trophy aloft for the fans.

"He's the best player in the world, and only he could score a goal like that," said one young fan in the crowd below.

"He's like a god, he came to Madrid and has now revolutionised the team," said another.

A special cheer was also reserved for young Iker Casillas, who became a hero after coming on to replace the injured first-choice goalkeeper Cesar mid-way through the second half.

The 20-year-old local-born player made a string of superb reflex saves in the dying minutes of the match to help Real to hang on for victory and claim their third Champions League title in five years.

The team then gave thanks for their victory at the city's cathedral before moving on to the Cibeles fountain, the traditional site used by the club to celebrate its triumphs.

Raul scaled the emblematic fountain and wrapped the club scarf around the Greek goddess at the centre before being joined by his team mates as they waved to the fans that had spilled over into the nearby streets.

There was no repetition of the disturbances that soured Wednesday night's celebrations at the fountain and the crowd moved on peacefully towards the Bernabeu for the team's final reception in front of their home fans.

The city-wide party was, however, expected to continue long after the official festivities had been brought to a close.

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