King and prime minister thank Spain's World Cup heroes
Spain's World Cup heroes were formally received on Monday by King Juan Carlos and Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, ahead of a triumphant bus parade through Madrid's euphoric streets, dpa reported.
Spain won the World Cup for the first time by beating the Netherlands 1-0 in an ill-tempered final in Johannesburg on Sunday, thanks to an extra-time goal from Andres Iniesta.
Their victory flight from Johannesburg arrived in Madrid three hours behind schedule.
Hundreds of delighted fans went out to Madrid's Barajas airport to welcome their heroes home, but Iniesta and company were quickly driven off to the Zarzuela royal palace for an official audience with King Juan Carlos.
The king, a keen sports fan, was unable to attend the final because he is recovering from a lung operation.
He told the players that "you are an example to all of us, an example to the new generations of nobility, of team-work and of fighting spirit. Thank you, champions, in the name of the royal family and of all Spaniards."
After the royal audience the players went to the Moncloa palace, seat of the government, to receive the thanks of Zapatero and his ministers.
The prime minister said that "this cup belongs to all the Spaniards and players who have tried to win it for many generations."
Zapatero singled out Iniesta for special praise, not only for Sunday's winning goal but also for showing, straight after the goal, a shirt in memory of Daniel Jarque, the Espanyol defender who died of a massive heart attack last August aged just 26.
Iniesta responded by saying "thank you for the reception. I am proud to form part of this team. This World Cup belongs to everyone."
Zapatero also praised national manager Vicente del Bosque, who had said that "this trophy is for all the Spanish football family, for the small clubs as well as the big clubs."
Spain captain Iker Casillas said that "the name of Spain is going to be in the highest place for four years. This cup is for all of you."
Casillas and company then embarked upon a victory parade through the streets of the capital, which will be followed by around three million fans.
The parade started in Moncloa, then will continue through key parts of the capital before finishing late on Monday with a massive celebration in the Puente del Rey, on the banks of the Manzanares river.