MADRID (AP) - Spanish players carried the Euro 2012 championship trophy back to their native land Monday, ready to accept a hero's welcome and lead their economically troubled nation in a second night of jubilant celebration.
Team captain and goalie Iker Casillas proudly held the tournament cup as he emerged from the plane in Madrid with coach Vicente del Bosque a day after the soccer team's crushing 4-0 win over Italy. The Iberia plane that brought them from Kiev bore the logo "proud of our national team."
The players filed off wearing red-and-yellow shirts and blue shorts. They were to meet with King Juan Carlos later in the day, then take an open air bus ride through the Spanish capital to the adulation of tens of thousands. Madrid's central plaza was all geared up for a victory rally.
Their elegant performance in the Euro 2012 final raised spirits across a country drowning in financial woes and made them the first team ever to bookend a World Cup championship (2010) with two Euro Cup triumphs (2008, 2012).
It even had some Spaniards offering a tongue-in-cheek suggestion: Why not have them run the country instead of Spain's feckless politicians?
In one newspaper cartoon, del Bosque is surrounded by Casillas and other stars like Xavi Hernandez and Andres Iniesta, who are all dressed up in suits for a new line of work.
"The solution to our problems: the government of prime minister Del Bosque and his ministers," read the vignette in El Mundo.
As the country recovered from a national hangover of elation, pride and booze, Spaniards soaked up sweet memories of a night no one will forget. For a few hours, the realities of 25 percent unemployment, a grinding recession and a banking bailout from the European Union to the tune of up to (EURO)100 billion ($125 billion) were put aside.
Maria Jose Herraiz, a 54-year-old homemaker, was so nervous she had to listen to the game on the radio instead of watching it on TV.
"When I heard people scream `Goal!' I would run to the TV," she said.
She called the victory marvelous, a potent shot of mood-boosting adrenalin for people sorely in need of it, but said reality would come back soon.
"It will be a sort of flower that blooms for just one day, because economic problems do not go away just because Spain wins," Herraiz said.
Her two adult children _ aged 26 and 28 _ are both still living at home. They are struggling on rock-bottom salaries as low as (EURO)300 ($377) a month for half-day work despite being a computer scientist and a physicist. They came home near dawn after a night of celebration, their faces painted in team colors of red and yellow.
Cristina Rivas, a 41-year-old musician, acknowledged that soccer prowess and government have nothing to do with each other but said there was something very special about those fast guys in red. She suggested that Spain's conservative government was interested only in meeting austerity goals to satisfy the country's European creditors, no matter how much it hurts the average Joe, or "Fulanito," as Spaniards would call him.
"Perhaps this team played like a team, and (the government) plays more as if they were protecting a patch of land," said Rivas.