Two years after their UEFA EURO 2008 triumph, Spain were once again receiving the adulation of throngs of delirious supporters who gathered in Madrid to greet their victorious FIFA World Cup homecoming heroes.
Andrés Iniesta's dramatic extra-time winner in the 1-0 victory against the Netherlands in Sunday's final produced a nationwide explosion of joy, with revellers taking to the streets to join a party that lasted until well after dawn. Indeed, there was little rest for those in the capital celebrating La Roja's maiden World Cup triumph, with the squad's arrival at Barajas airport just before 15.00CET marking the start of a city-wide tour.
Doubts were raised about Spain's chances in South Africa when Vicente del Bosque's side lost their opening game of the tournament to Switzerland on 16 June. Yet on receiving the squad at the Royal Palace, King Juan Carlos spoke of the "hard-working team ethic" that helped the new world champions recover to win their next six games and take glory.
Those sentiments were echoed on their next scheduled stop to greet José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, the Spanish prime minister, who said: "This is a victory brought about not just by the 23 players in the squad but also by everyone behind the scenes. It's a triumph for all of those players of other generations who tried so hard to achieve the same success."
With the city resplendent in red amid stifling temperatures, Del Bosque, twice a UEFA Champions League winning coach, took to the podium to offer his appreciation of the support Spain had received over the past month. "There's no better platform than this to say thanks to everyone who got behind us," he said. "This success is one that is deserved by all; from the most humble football club in the country to the biggest."
Newspaper kiosks were swamped from the early hours with fans looking to pick up souvenirs of Spain's World Cup victory – the first by a European team on a different continent. Headlines such as that printed in sports daily AS caught the mood. "From Spain to the Heavens," it read, with the paper also referring to a "dazzling generation" of players. La Razón, meanwhile, offered a simple "Thank you" to their national team.
Shortly before the squad set off again, the last word went to winning captain Iker Casillas. "I'm lucky to represent these great players," said the goalkeeper, who conceded only two goals in seven matches at the finals. "We've deservedly brought this trophy from South Africa and it ensures the name of Spain will be at the very top of this sport for the next four years."
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