MADRID, April 21, 2011 (AFP) - Tens of thousands of euphoric Real Madrid fans welcomed their team home to the Spanish capital in the early hours of Thursday after they clinched their first Spanish Cup win since 1993.
Supporters, many wrapped in the club's flag, cheered as the squad arrived Madrid's central Cibeles Square, the traditional home for raucous Real Madrid victory celebrations, at around 4:30 am (0230 GMT) in an open-top bus that was escorted by police on horseback as confetti rained down around them.
AFP - Real Madrid's goalkeeper and captain Iker Casillas kisses the Cibeles statue in Madrid on April 20, 2011, after Real Madrid won the Spanish Cup final
Real captain Iker Casillas walked across a catwalk built in scaffolding around the central square and kissed the statue of the Roman goddess of nature, Cybele, to celebrate the Spanish Cup win.
He then draped a Spanish flag with Real's insignia and a club scarf around the neck of the statue of the goddess, who is seated in a stone chariot hauled by two large lions, as Queen's "We are the Champions" blared from loudspeakers.
Players and other team officials could be seen holding up their mobile telephones to record the moment.
"I have dreamt of this moment for years, and it is even sweeter because the final was against Barcelona," said 41-year-old Alberto Aguacil, who wore a Real flag wrapped around his waist as he watched the team arrive at the square.
Just before the team's arrival at the square, Real defender Sergio Ramos held the Spanish Cup trophy, which weighs 15 kilos (33 pounds), above his head, and lost his grip, causing it to fall in front of the bus. The bus then ran over it before stopping.
Police rushed to retrieve the silver trophy and gave it to the driver of the bus.
"It fell, it fell, it's fine, it's fine," Ramos told reporters when asked about the incident as he arrived at the square.
The trophy was not displayed after its fall. Emergency services workers picked up at least 10 pieces of the trophy, news radio Cadena Ser reported.
Spanish media estimated some 60,000 fans greeted the team on their return home despite intermittent rain showers during their wait.
The crowd had started gathering in the square as soon as the final whistle blew on Real Madrid's dramatic 1-0 extra-time victory over Barcelona at Valencia's Mestalla Stadium.
Barcelona and Real have not met in the final of the Spanish Cup since 1990, when Barcelona won 2-0.
Police vans and scores of officers blocked cars off from all incoming roads and checked bags as revellers streamed into the square hours before the players' arrival.
Fans cried out: "Champions, Champions" and "The Cup is here" as they waited for the squad to arrive as music blared across the square and lights beamed the Real Madrid logo across the imposing facade of the city hall.
"The last time we won the Cup I was 10 years' old. It is about time!" said 27-year-old Real Madrid fan David Hierro.
Many had words of praise for Cristiano Ronaldo, whose header sealed the championship and delivered coach Jose Mourinho's first trophy since joining the club last May.
"Ronaldo is the best player Real has ever had, the team has gotten as far as it has this year because of him," said 21-year-old student Jorge Bravo, who was wearing a jersey with the Portuguese winger's name on it.
Real's win was front page news on all major Spanish newspapers on Thursday.
"Mourinho and Cristiano's Madrid get the crown in a colossal duel," said top-selling daily newspaper El Pais on its front page below a photo of the Real squad.
"Madrid recovers its throne. Mourinho's strategy, Casillas' defences and Cristiano Ronaldo's effectiveness defeat Barcelona," said rival daily Publico.