Real Madrid set for hero's welcome after European success

Madrid (AFP) –


Following a night of celebrations, Madrid prepared Sunday to give Real Madrid players a hero's welcome after the Spanish giants won their third Champions League title in a row in Kiev.

Thousands of fans are expected to line the streets of the Spanish capital to greet Cristiano Ronaldo and the rest of the Real squad as they parade through the streets of the city on an open-top bus.

The team returned to Spain on Sunday morning and captain Sergio Ramos carried the Champions League trophy in his hands as he descended the steps of the plane that brought the squad back to Madrid's Barajas airport, images broadcast on Spanish TV showed.

The team is scheduled to arrive at the club's traditional celebration spot, the Plaza de Cibeles, at 8:15 pm (1815 GMT) and then head to Real's Santiago Bernabeu stadium where a huge party will be held from 10 pm.

Before hitting Cibeles they will stop at Madrid's La Almudena cathedral and meet with the city's mayor, Manuela Carmena, at city hall.

The fountain in the heart of the Plaza de Cibeles was surrounded by a white and blue banner decorated with the Real logo that read "Thanks Real Madrid supporters!". Four blue police vans were parked around the fountain.

Dozens of fans gathered in plaza, some holding umbrellas to protest themselves from the sun, hours before the players were due to arrive.

"I had to be here and celebrate this win with them," Ivan Gonzalez, a 23-year-old student who wore a pink Ronaldo jersey and a Real Madrid scarf wrapped around his neck, told AFP as he waited in front of the fountain with a group of friends for the players to arrive.

- 'So much joy' -

Thousands of Real Madrid fans packed Plaza de Cibeles late on Saturday after the club won a record-extending 13th European Cup with a 3-1 victory over Liverpool.

Many headed to the central square after watching the match at the Bernabeu on eight giant screens.

Roughly 80,000 Real Madrid fans at the stadium erupted in delight at the final whistle, breaking out in familiar chants of "Campeones, campeones".

"This is incredible. Its beautiful belonging to Real Madrid, this is incredible," said Jose Manuel Rodriguez, a 50-year-old barman who came to Madrid from the northern Basque region to watch the match at the Bernabeu.

"That is what Real Madrid has, it gives so much joy," he added.

The club's "decimotercera," or 13th title in the competition, moved them six clear of second-placed AC Milan in the all-time honours list, after lifting the trophy for a remarkable fourth time in five seasons.

Frenchman Zinedine Zidane also became the first coach to win three consecutive Champions League crowns, despite having spent less than three years at the helm.

- 'Legendary team' -

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, a die-hard Real fan, sent a telegram to the club's president, Florentino Perez, to congratulate the team for their victory, which he said had "revalidated" the club's "continental leadership" and "inscribed it with gold letters in the book of the best football in history".

"Thank you for this sporting show that filled all sports lovers with emotion and pride, and for once again taking Spain's name to the highest levels of world sport," he added in the telegram, his office said in a statement.

Rajoy had planned to watch the match in person in Kiev but he cancelled the trip at the last minute after the main opposition Socialist party filed a no-confidence motion against his government in parliament.

Real's victory made the front page of all main Spanish newspapers on Sunday.

"Madrid dominates Europe with a legendary team," headlined top-selling daily El Pais below a photo of Ramos holding up the Champions League trophy surrounded by the ream of his teammates.

"An eternal Real Madrid," wrote rival daily El Mundo while conservative daily ANC headlined: "A Real Madrid of legend".