SPAIN’s Euro 2012 heroes set off on a victory tour of the capital Monday as a vast red-and-yellow sea of fans danced in the baking heat and, for a moment, forgot the economic crisis.
Players in red “Champions of Europe” tee-shirts leaned over the side of an open-top double-decker bus, speeding into the city where masses awaited for a fiesta in the central Plaza de Cibeles square.
Fans packed together in 36C (97F) heat and were sprayed with water hoses as they danced to the sound of pop groups playing on a huge stage, backed by a giant video screen, for the party finale.
After touching down in Madrid-Barajas airport, captain Iker Casillas stood at the door of the Iberia Airbus A319 in front of coach Vicente del Bosque and held the silver trophy aloft.
King Juan Carlos, 74, still hobbling after injuring his hip during an African elephant-hunting safari, later joined with the royal family in hailing the victors at the Palacio de la Zarzuela in Madrid.
“Spaniards are proud of you, really proud, and not only because each of you are good players but because as a team you are terrific,” he said as players gathered for a team photo.
Casillas gave the king a Spain shirt with the number 1, signed by the entire team.
Spaniards massed for the party after their 4-0 thrashing of Italy in the Ukrainian capital Kiev, brimming with pride at their nation’s unprecedented third straight international football title.
Swelling crowds lined the victory route.
“The country is more united and people can forget their problems for a while,” said 27-year-old Jessica Pino in a team shirt, draped in the Spanish flag and with a Viking hat in the national colours.
“It cheers us up for a bit,” agreed her 26-year-old friend Gabriel Rodriguez, in similar garb.
Their heroes were weary but ready to celebrate.
“Satisfied and happy for the success. It was difficult and we did it,” Casillas, hailed as a key ingredient in Spain’s triumph, told reporters at the airport where their plane was met by two fire engines.
“Happy because people enjoyed it,” he added.
Forward Cesc Fabregas admitted to being a bit tired.
“We have been celebrating, we are very happy. The best is yet to come,” he said.
Celebrations erupted from the end of the first half of the match on Sunday night, when Spain was already 2-0 up, and huge numbers of fans invaded the Plaza de Cibeles, adorned with a stone fountain of the goddess of nature on a chariot hauled by lions.
In Madrid’s Puerta del Sol, a dozen people leapt into the fountain and splashed water over scores of others dancing in joy.
Goals from David Silva, Jordi Alba, Fernando Torres and Juan Mata on Sunday sparked a crescendo of joy across Spain.
Some 15,481,000 people, or 83.4 percent of the television audience, saw Spain’s win in the Ukrainian capital of Kiev — the greatest audience recorded in Spain for a football match, industry figures showed.
The victory also sparked a new sports-related record for tweets per second, Twitter said.
The match resulted in 16.5 million tweets from fans around the world and total global traffic on the platform peaked at 15,358 tweets per second during the fourth goal, a new sports-related record on Twitter, the company said.
Success on the field gave succour to a nation in crisis, said the leading daily El Pais, with the economy in recession, the jobless rate at 24.4 percent, and stricken banks struggling to stay afloat.
“Spain’s footballing successes give indirect relief, if only ephemeral, to the destructive consequences of recession and unemployment from which the Spanish people are suffering,” it said.
“Football is not a substitute for good political management nor for economic prosperity, nor should we ask it to be, but it can inject a dose of self-esteem in difficult times,” the paper said.