Goddess disarmed by fans

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The Independent Online
MADRID - She is 212 years old and survived Spain's Civil War. But the goddess Cybele, or Cibeles, who rides a lion-drawn chariot in the heart of Madrid fell victim to football fans celebrating Spain's World Cup success, writes Phil Davison.

Euphoric fans broke off the goddess of fertility's left arm early on Sunday as they celebrated victory over Switzerland and a place in the quarter-finals. The stone arm, still clutching Cybele's famous key to the city, disappeared in the confusion.

Police yesterday scoured Cibeles Square, near the Prado, while Cybele defiantly clutched her sceptre in her unharmed right hand. Outraged Madrilenos described the fans as barbarians. They had, after all, kept her intact during the 1936-39 Civil War by shrouding her in earth, sandbags and planks while Franco's nationalists bombarded the city.

She has in the past been covered with foam, daubed with luminous yellow paint and forced to wear a set of giant headphones for an audio company's advertisement. But she has always survived with nothing hurt but her pride.

After emotional radio appeals, a young couple handed in the severed arm intact, complete with key, in a large plastic bag last night. 'We found it lying around,' they said.

Experts plan a transplant operation to restore the goddess to her glory, but are expected to wait until Spain's World Cup run is over. 'God knows what'll happen if we get to the finals,' said one policeman yesterday. 'They'll probably try to run off with the whole bloody chariot.'