Spaniards turns out to welcome home heroes

Mon Jul 12, 2010 2:59pm EDT
 
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MADRID (Reuters) - Thousands of fans lined the streets of Madrid Monday to welcome home the victorious Spain team after their World Cup final win over the Netherlands.

Captain Iker Casillas was the first out of the airplane and held the World Cup aloft at the top of the steps as the team arrived back from South Africa for the start of the official celebrations.

The plane landed at Madrid's Barajas airport at about 1400 GMT and the team were greeted by hundreds of airport workers who waved flags and chanted "Champions."

In temperatures touching 40 degrees Celsius, the squad quickly boarded a bus on the apron and were taken to a hotel to change in preparation for an audience with King Juan Carlos, who had been unable to attend the final in Johannesburg on doctors' orders after an illness.

"You are an example for new generations for your effort and the spirit you showed in overcoming the odds," the King said in the Royal Palace. "You made our best dreams come true."

Afterwards, the team met Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, who was also unable to make it to Soccer City stadium, before setting off round the streets of the capital in an open-topped bus.

The players wore red T-shirts with "world champions" emblazoned across the front, waved flags, and took photographs and videos of the red-and-yellow sea of fans lining the pavements, while music thumped out from huge speakers.

The bus tour was due to finish at a specially erected stage on the banks of the river Manzanares where a party was already well underway with live music entertaining the crowds.

Fireman sprayed water over the fans to cool them down in the heat and the party was expected to go on well into the night.

(Writing by Mark Elkington; Editing by Clare Fallon)