A city bathed in red and white was the setting for the return of Club Atlético de Madrid's triumphant UEFA Europa League squad who belatedly joined a party in the Spanish capital that had been ongoing since the night before.
Weary from their travails at the Hamburg Arena, where Diego Forlán's dramatic extra-time winner ended the challenge of Fulham FC, Atlético's players emerged in the arrivals hall of Barajas airport at 06.40CET to face hundreds of screaming fans who had waited all night for a glimpse of their heroes. A deserved afternoon's rest followed before the squad mounted an open-top bus at the gates of the Vicente Calderón. From there, a long procession through the streets of the city began.
Ecstatic supporters – some too young to remember the last time scenes like these greeted the side after their double-winning season in 1996 – lined the route that would eventually take the team to the Neptune fountain, the site where Los Colchoneros traditionally celebrate. "This is absolutely incredible. It's such a pleasure to see so many here to greet us," a visibly moved José Antonio Reyes said. "
It's been too long since this club has won something, so this victory is for all of these fans."
Just weeks before, the Palacio de Comunicaciones was the scene for the presentation of the UEFA Champions League trophy to the city of Madrid and the historical building opened its doors once more for the arrival of the impressive UEFA Europa League silverware as the players enjoyed a small break. "This is a very important moment for Atlético de Madrid; everyone knows the difficulties we've had in getting here," club president Enrique Cerezo said. "The players brought us this wonderful cup which we in turn present to all the citizens of Madrid."
Some had waited for more than four hours for the team to take to the balcony of the Palace of the Community of Madrid in the Puerta del Sol but that was nothing compared to the 48 years that have passed since Los Rojiblancos' last major European success. Chants of "campeones, campeones" echoed around the square as players and fans alike revelled in the celebratory atmosphere.
"This is all just starting to sink in," Forlán said. "
All of us dreamed about living this moment; it's incredible." The spectacular scenes may be repeated next week with Atlético looking to add the Copa del Rey to their European crown, and for the team's Uruguayan goalscoring hero there will be an extra motivation to beat Sevilla FC at the Camp Nou. "It's my birthday on the day of the final next week so I'm hoping for a double celebration. Let's hope we'll be back here again."
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