World Cup squad returns to Spain in triumph

Madrid, July 13: The Spanish royal family and government welcomed the country's World Cup-winning soccer team home Monday and emphasised that the players' work projects the best image of Spain.

The Royal Palace and the prime minister's offices in La Moncloa was dressed in red and yellow to receive the world champions, before they began their triumphal passage through the streets of Madrid led by coach Vicente del Bosque and captain Iker Casillas.

In the Palace's columned hall, King Juan Carlos thanked the members of the squad for "making the best dreams reality" and for being examples of "sportsmanship, nobility, good play and teamwork".

A large part of the activity at the ceremony fell to Leonor and Sofia, the young daughters of Crown Prince Felipe and Princess Letizia, who, dressed in team jerseys, were able to touch the World Cup trophy and bestow the medals presented to the team members.

Spain won the World Cup for the first time by beating the Netherlands 1-0 in an ill-tempered final Sunday in Johannesburg with an extra-time goal from Iniesta.

The members of the squad, wearing their uniforms, presented the king with a jersey bearing all their signatures, the same gift that they made a little later to Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero.

From the Royal Palace, the team went to La Moncloa, where several thousand people, among them government officials and their relatives had gathered to honour them.

After hoisting the trophy above his head, going up onto the stage set up in the gardens and bowing to Casillas cheered on by the public, Zapatero said that the success had brought forth "the united strength of all Spaniards so that the best image of Spain shines throughout the world".

"They won by being the best, by playing as a team, by (playing a) clean game and by that good attitude and knowledge... on the field and off the field," the prime minister said of the team.

Zapatero personified the success of which he spoke in Andres Iniesta, the player who scored the winning goal in the final, for playing good soccer and his human qualities, and also in Del Bosque for his "strength, temperance and serenity" in representing with dignity all Spaniards.

Del Bosque had broadened the team's success "to the entire soccer family", from the most humble club to the biggest, and he shared the moment with his son Alvaro, who has Down's syndrome.

Fulfilling the promise that Del Bosque had made, Alvaro received the trophy from the players when he arrived at Moncloa and after that he boarded the bus with his father and the entire team to make their triumphant tour through Madrid.

After the ceremonies at the Royal Palace and La Moncloa, the champions set out for a massive victory celebration in central Madrid.

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