Spain bursts with joy for their 'Campeones'

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The Independent Online

The firecrackers started before the final whistle. The trumpets followed, then the streams of cars swinging through the streets of the Spanish capital, honking their hearts out, scarlet and gold flags rippling from the windows. "Viva Espana!" wafted in the air as they passed.

Within minutes, thousands of fans filled the streets, forcing celebrating vehicles to inch their way through the human tide.

"It's not just in Madrid, you know," said my upstairs neighbour Tina, a teacher, as we headed for the street. "My brother's in Cuenca, in La Mancha, and he says it's the same there. He went out into the patio and fired his shot gun into the air."

Youngsters burst from doorways, draped in the flag of their heroes, their faces blazing with happiness. The volume increased as multitudes converged upon the heart of the capital, engulfing the usually traffic-choked Castellana boulevard and Gran Via with a dense, euphoric human avalanche. They were ecstatic. It was like stepping into a rolling red sea. "Campeones, Campeones Oe, Oe, Oe," they carolled, holding their flags high.

How do you feel?, I asked Hector, 24, who was crossing the boulevard, a beer can in his hand. "De puta madre," he shot back. Roughly, "bloody brilliant." And what was your favourite moment? "El Gol!"

Angel Luis, 22, was, like thousands of delirious compatriots, taking photographs. "I feel proud that all Spaniards united round their team," he said. "There were differences at first, but we all came together. It's an unforgettable moment. I'm going to throw myself into the fountain, then celebrate all night."

Juan, 36, said. "I feel more Spanish than ever. At last we're champions of Europe after decades of failure. It's our best moment ever." His friend Danny, 31, cheeks striped with scarlet and gold, added: "we've entered heaven after decades of being left outside the gates."

Groups settled on grassy central reservations, skirting beds of red and yellow flowers whose scent compounded the intoxicating atmosphere. Dark blue police vans were lined up nearby, with helmeted riot police poised for trouble, rifles and truncheons at the ready.

Everyone in this nationwide fiesta was revelling in the transcendence of Spain's achievement. It was an explosion of technicolour joy after a generation of grey football disappointment.

And a nation that comes alive at night prepared to party the hours away, their klaxons toot-tooting until dawn.