Jubilant fans welcome Italian team home

Flag-waving crowds waited for hours in blazing sunshine on Monday to welcome Italy's triumphant football team home.

Fans, many of them children wearing their heroes' blue jersies, cheered wildly as captain Fabio Cannavaro stepped off the plane and held aloft the gold World Cup trophy.

As the 23 players, looking dashing in their black Dolce & Gabbana suits, walked across the tarmac, Italian air force jets roared overhead and painted a huge Italian flag in the sky with colored smoke.

After being greeted formally by the mayor of Rome and other officials, coach Marcello Lippi and his squad were whisked away on a bus to central Rome, where they were to be congratulated by Premier Romano Prodi.

But their progress was slowed by thousands of fans who surrounded the bus and its escort on the main road into the city.

As part of the celebrations, the team was scheduled to ride on an open-top bus through the city centre, where thousands of flag-draped fans were waiting to catch a glimpse of their idols.

Festivities were due to reach their climax in the evening with a huge party at Circus Maximus, the ancient Roman chariot-racing circuit where massive crowds had watched the World Cup final the night before.

Politicians rushed on Monday to heap praise on the team that won Italy its fourth World Cup and there were calls for official honors for the players.

President Giorgio Napolitano, who went to Berlin for the final, announced in the evening that the entire squad would in fact be awarded one of the Republic's top honors.

He said the squad had "united" the country, restoring a sense of "national identity and pride".

Source: Xinhua

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