Tens of thousands grasped a rare opportunity for national Spanish celebration as the all-conquering World and European champion football team were greeted on the streets of Madrid.
King Juan Carlos received the team at Madrid's Zarzuela Palace before they began a parade in an open-top bus yesterday afternoon before finishing the celebrations with a victory rally in the central Plaza de Cibeles.
The Spanish team's 4-0 victory over Italy in Kiev made them the first team to win three successive major international tournaments and came as a fresh round of austerity measures began to bite.
The government has introduced a co-payment on prescription drugs and raised electricity prices for families by four per cent and gas by six per cent.
Still more belt-tightening is on the way, because to cut its budget deficit and stave off a bailout, the government will take more than 400 drugs off the prescription list in August and is considering more hikes in VAT.
"The success of Spanish football is an indirect relief, albeit ephemeral, from the destructive consequences of recessions and unemployment that Spanish society is suffering from," wrote Spain's El Pais newspaper. But the crowd at the rally cheered as they were entertained by musicians and the players on stage.
"Each of you is a good player, but as a team you are formidable," King Juan Carlos told the team.
He added: "You know how to play together, how to combine your own skills with those of your team-mates."
"I can't describe what we are going through at the moment. Thanks so much," tweeted Spanish attacker, Cesc Fabregas, from the parade.
Thousands crammed Madrid's Puerta del Sol within minutes of the final whistle being blown in Kiev, and began to chant "Campeones! Campeones!" while street vendors did a brisk trade in horns, flags and cold beer on the hot summer night.
Joining the crowds in Spain's red and yellow strip was Naroa Muñoz, who was on her hen night. "I'm very excited. I've shouted myself hoarse," Ms Muñoz said, as fans danced in the fountains. "The crisis is always on your mind, but at least now we can forget about it for a bit."
An estimated 40,000 watched the final on a giant screen outside Real Madrid's Bernabeu stadium, and although police proceeded to disperse revellers at 3am, they reported just one arrest in the capital, for drunkenness.
Even while Andrés Iniesta and his team-mates were preparing for the final on Friday, the Puerta del Sol was filled with street sweepers in fluorescent jackets protesting at job and pay cuts. Another group, meanwhile, blew whistles and banged on saucepans to demonstrate against redundancies at Spain's biggest radio station, where advertising revenues have plummeted.
Manager Vicente del Bosque welcomed the fact that Spain had overcome an inferiority complex – in sport at least – which had kept them from winning major tournaments despite decades of spectacular success at club level.
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