Spain’s triumphant Euro 2012 heroes parted a red-and-yellow sea of fans in central Madrid on Monday in a giant, deafening national fiesta that swept aside all thoughts of economic crisis.
An open-top double-decker bus ferried the team like a small boat picking its way through a vast ocean of hundreds of thousands of adoring Spaniards waving flags, cheering and dancing to thumping rock music.
Helicopters hovering above filmed a crowd that seemed to carpet the entire heart of the capital to rejoice in Spain’s historic 4-0 thrashing of Italy in the Ukrainian capital Kiev.
At the climax of the party, the players basked in glory in the central Plaza de Cibeles, where Queen’s We are the Champions blared from loudspeakers.
In the center of the square, a huge Spain flag was draped around the neck of an emblematic stone fountain of the goddess of nature riding a chariot hauled by lions. The team joined a rock group to sing and dance on a huge stage in the square, with towering video screens behind.
Rappers blared out the song No hay dos sin tres (You can’t have two without three) in praise of Spain’s unprecedented third straight title and the team danced along, wearing red T-shirts reading “Champions of Europe.”
“For me, it is a great pride to be able to captain this team of great players and great people,” Spain goalkeeper and captain Iker Casillas told fans from the stage. “Thank you for being here.”
Left winger Andres Iniesta, who was crowned the player of the tournament, said he was humbled to be part of a legendary squad.
“But more than anything, I feel very proud to see your expressions of joy in these difficult times for us — it is a matter of pride to see you happy,” he said.
During the victory parade, Spaniards packed the streets from the buildings right to the edge of the bus, which was escorted by mounted police as it gingerly made its way to the city center.
Leaning over the edge of the bus, forward Cesc Fabregas brandished the silver trophy, adding to an unprecedented collection that includes the 2008 European Championship and the 2010 World Cup.
Residents hung from apartment balconies to get a glimpse of their heroes, waving wildly as the team passed and throwing buckets of water to cool fellow partygoers on the street below. Giant red balloons bobbed above supporters’ heads.
One fan, 42-year-old Jaime Barea, brought a group of 14 children, his own and his friends’ offspring.
“It will give them an unforgettable memory,” he said. “When I was small I did not have this chance. Spain went for 40 years without winning.”
Fernando Torres, winner of the Golden Boot for his three goals and one assist in the tournament, perched nonchalantly at one point with one leg hanging over the edge of the bus.
Barcelona forward Cesc Fabregas laughed and waved to fans. Real Madrid’s Sergio Ramos danced in his seat. Smiling coach Vicente del Bosque, in a white business shirt, leaned over, waved gingerly and even swayed to the music.
Chants of “Champions, Champions,” rang through the Spanish capital.
King Juan Carlos I, 74, still hobbling after injuring his hip during an African elephant-hunting safari, joined with the royal family in hailing the victors at the Palacio de la Zarzuela.
“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 before the players joined the national fiesta.