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Nationwide fiesta

marciadottin, [email protected]

Nationwide fiesta

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MADRID – Spain erupted with its biggest fiesta in memory yesterday when its football team returned to a jubilant nation after winning the World Cup, giving elated Spaniards a break from months of economic gloom and political squabbling as nationalist regions fought for greater autonomy from the central government.Hundreds of thousands of people – if not more – jammed Madrid’s historic avenues as an open air bus ferried the national team down stately avenues to cheers from Spaniards decked out in a sea of red and yellow, the colours of the Spanish flag.The celebration in Madrid, where national unity is at its strongest, was expected. But there were striking examples of support from unlikely places: The well-off Catalonia region, which has long sought greater autonomy, and the separatist Basque region, where anything pro-Spain is often shunned.The massive Madrid street party came after players visited Madrid’s Royal Palace, normally used only for dreary state affairs. But the team chatted and had drinks with King Juan Carlos, who hugged many players and gave coach Vicente del Bosque friendly punches on the cheek and the chest.“You are an example of sportsmanship, nobility, good play and team work,” said the king.Team members then travelled to government headquarters, where they were greeted by Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, ministers and hundreds of ecstatic children invited to the event.“They won the cup but it belongs to all Spaniards,” shouted a delighted Zapatero.Next came an open-air bus ride through Madrid’s historic centre, the epicentre of the celebration for the second day in a row. Crowds overflowed into the street and surrounded the team bus, virtually all sporting the red and yellow national colours along the five-kilometre route as the bus crawled through the crowd with the players waving and raising the gold World Cup trophy into the air.At the route’s end, firefighters hosed down fans sweltering in 36 Celsius (96 Fahrenheit) evening heat.The party started when the players’ plane touched down, flying Spanish flags from its cockpit windows, with dozens of airport workers cheering from the runway. It taxied to a stop as cars driving by on nearby highways blared their horns in support.A roar of approval rose as team captain and goalkeeper Iker Casillas stepped from the plane and raised the trophy. The crowd chanted “Campeones! Campeones!” (Champions! Champions!). Then the players in their team jerseys walked from the plane to a waiting Spanish football federation bus without commenting to journalists.“The spectacle was “very important, it helps us forget a lot of things, like the economic crisis, for example, or people’s domestic issues”, said Javier Sanchez, a 42-year-old photographer from Madrid. (AP)