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Spain welcomes football heroes home

By Ben Harding
July 01, 2008 13:48 IST
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Tens of thousands of ecstatic Spaniards lined Madrid's streets and packed into a central square on Monday to raucously cheer home their football heroes, after Spain's Euro 2008 final victory in Vienna.

Finally free of pressure after beating Germany 1-0 on Sunday, delighted players celebrated on a stage in front of thousands in Madrid's Colon Square and tossed 69-year-old coach Luis Aragones into the air.

Captain Iker Casillas credited Aragones, who the players treat more as a father figure than coach, as the main reason for Spain's victory -- the first time the country has won a major football tournament in 44 years.

Earlier, Spain's most popular television channels showed live footage as the team's plane, painted with the word "Champions", taxied to a halt at Madrid's Barajas airport.

"This is for all of you," goalkeeper Casillas said to Spanish television as he stepped onto the tarmac with the trophy under his arm.

Traffic on motorways was stopped as an open-top bus carrying the team crawled past crowds lining the road from the airport to the city centre in the hot summer evening.

Fans draped in red and yellow Spanish flags thronged the streets and chanted "Campeones!" as the bus swept past, flanked by police and trailed by a phalanx of horn-beeping motorbikes.

"This is beyond description, this has never happened to us," said Francisco Ramirez from Toledo, his voice hoarse after cheering as the bus passed by.

"We said to each other: 'Let's go because we're not going to live through this again until God knows when'," said the 28-year-old economics student.

At the front of the bus, scorer Fernando Torres swung precariously over the side with the 6-kg (13-lb) trophy in his hand, while other cheering players danced around.

On stage, tournament top scorer David Villa screamed "Viva Espana!" as the young squad partied around him. Liverpool and Spain reserve goalkeeper Pepe Reina looked like the natural master of ceremonies as he mercilessly poked fun at teammates and led tens of thousands of delirious fans in song.

Even the normally reserved and dour Aragones, who has said he is stepping down and seems set to join Turkish side Fenerbahce, allowed a smile to creep across his face as he spoke to reporters at the airport.

"I'm a man who is not given to great emotions, but I am so overwhelmed now that I am a little emotional," he said.

(Additional reporting by Teresa Larraz)

(Editing by Ibon Villelabeitia)

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