- Associated Press - Tuesday, July 13, 2010

AMSTERDAM (AP) - Hundreds of thousands of fans lined Amsterdam’s web of canals to cheer the World Cup runner-up Netherlands as the team cruised the waterways, swigging beer and blowing vuvuzelas, in an open-top boat on Tuesday.

Looking to have finally shaken off the disappointment of the team’s third second-place World Cup finish, the players drank beer and waved at fans as orange streamers, fired from cannons along the canal, drifted over them.

Midfielder Rafael van der Vaart sprayed fans with beer, while defender Edson Braafheid caught a bottle of beer tossed to him by a fan and started drinking from it. Players had to regularly duck as their boat cruised under low bridges.

“I expected some people to come, but this is unbelievable,” coach Bert van Marwijk said. “Can you imagine what it would have been like if we’d won?”

Scores of small boats, most of them pumping out loud music and packed with dancing revelers, followed the official flotilla.

In front of about 100,000 fans at the central Museum Square, winger Arjen Robben said: “Spain may have won the World Cup, but we have the best supporters in the world.”

Before the team boat arrived, several fans leaped into the murky waters of the Brouwersgracht canal cheered by hoards of orange-clad, flag-waving supporters _ despite warnings from authorities that swimming in the canals could expose them to anything from E. coli bacteria to sunken bicycles and shopping carts.

“It’s a bit much, considering we lost,” said Loes Olden, who was sipping a glass of white wine at the water’s edge at a table decked in an orange tarp, two ornate candle sticks and a bowl of oranges. “It’s over the top, but we’re enjoying it.”

Houses along the canals were draped in flags and some had giant footballs hanging from their facades.

Earlier, the team was honored by Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende at the start of a hectic day of celebrations.

Under bunches of orange balloons, Van Marwijk and retiring captain Giovanni van Bronckhorst were given the honorary title of “Knight in the Order of Oranje Nassau” at a reception in front of Balkenende’s official Catshuis residence.

The team then was driven by coach to meet Queen Beatrix at her Noordeinde Palace in The Hague before an Air Force helicopter whisked the team to Amsterdam for its boat tour and an open-air party at Museum Square, where fans had watched the action from South Africa on giant screens throughout the tournament.

Amsterdam police tweeted that 500,000 people had descended on the city to celebrate the Netherlands‘ best World Cup finish since 1978. There were no immediate reports of any problems among the fans, who quickly dispersed from the canals after the team boat had passed.

Orange-clad supporters began pouring into the grassy square, flanked on two sides by the Rijksmuseum and Van Gogh Museum, hours before the party’s scheduled 5 p.m. (1500 GMT) start.

Security staff were posted next to a handful of house boats along the route in an effort to prevent fans clambering onto their roofs. When the Netherlands won its only international title, the 1988 European Championship, several house boats were badly damaged and a few sank amid wild scenes of jubilation.

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