A red and yellow sea of delirious fans swamped central Madrid in a wild all-night party, before hailing the return yesterday of their conquering Euro 2012 heroes.
Briefly lifting the clouds of economic crisis, Spain’s historic 4-0 thumping of Italy brought out massive crowds on a warm summer’s night.
Young and old, Spaniards burst into chants of “Champions,” detonated bangers, danced in fountains, blared car horns and flew the national flag in their hands, through car windows and off the back of motorcycles.
Tens of thousands of beer-soaked fans packed Madrid’s iconic Plaza Cibeles, adorned with a stone fountain of the goddess of nature on a chariot hauled by lions. By morning, just discarded beer cans and bottles remained.
Madrid police reported just one arrest for drunkenness. Emergency workers in the capital said there were 114 light injuries for cuts, falls and fainting.
In the same square, workers put the finishing touches to a massive stage with video screens for the victory party.
Captain Iker Casillas and the rest of La Furia Roja were to be greeted by King Juan Carlos I, before being hailed by fans in an open-top bus driven through the streets to popular celebrations in the square.
Goals from David Silva, Jordi Alba, Fernando Torres and Juan Mata on Sunday sparked a crescendo of joy across Spain.
About 15.5 million people, or more than 80 percent of the television audience, saw Spain’s win in the Ukrainian capital Kiev — the greatest audience recorded in Spain for a soccer match, industry figures showed.
Success on the field gave succor to a nation in crisis, leading daily El Pais said, 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. There are many reasons to claim this self-esteem.”
Through the night, Spain’s red and yellow colors were everywhere — painted on faces, decorating wigs, on banners draped over fans’ shoulders, wrapped around hips, hanging from balconies and outside bars.
In the streets, they banged drums, blared horns or just waved national flags sold on street corners.
In Madrid’s Puerta del Sol, a dozen people leapt into the fountain and splashed water over scores of others dancing in joy.
Tens of thousands of people had been glued to giant screens in an official fan zone outside Real Madrid’s Santiago Bernabeu as Spain added to their Euro 2008 and 2010 World Cup titles.
Others swilled beers, cheering and gasping in bars across the nation as the match unfolded.
“Today, the whole country is united as one and everyone is in the Euro. And the crisis? No one is thinking about the crisis,” 23-year-old business student Miguel Revert said outside a central Madrid sports bar.
It was a world away from Rome, where a rock concert atmosphere at the ancient Circus Maximus arena evaporated and tens of thousands made a gloomy run for the exits.
“I feel defeated. The will was there, but they were tired,” 23-year-old Fabio said in a blue Italy shirt as he walked away with a group of friends. “We did our best, but I was hoping for better.”
The press echoed the sentiment.
“It was the stronger, more elegant, more imaginative and more serene side that won. More than winning against us, they humiliated us. This was not a game, it was a spectacular lesson in football,” La Repubblica daily said. “Thank you anyway, Italy.”