In an outburst of national pride, Croatia on Monday threw out a red carpet and staged a heroes’ welcome for the country’s national team despite its loss to France in the World Cup final.
Tens of thousands of people wearing national red-and-white colours and waving Croatian flags poured into the streets in of the capital Zagreb to greet the players, many coming to the city from other parts of the country.
The joyful, singing crowd crammed the city’s central square or lined up along the route where the players passed in an open bus, greeting the fans along the way and signing autographs from the bus.
Croatian air force jets escorted the plane carrying the team from Russia as it entered the country’s air space and flew over the capital Zagreb.
“Champions! Champions!” roared the crowds as the players came out of the plane to a red carpet placed on the tarmac at the Zagreb airport.
The small country of 4 million people has been gripped in euphoria since its team beat England to reach its first World Cup final, where Croatia lost 4-2 to France.
The success has been the described as the biggest in Croatia’s sporting history, boosting national pride and sense of unity in the country that fought a war to become independent from the former Yugoslavia in 1990s’.
Croatia’s state railway company has halved ticket prices so fans could travel to Zagreb, while city authorities in the capital said public transportation would be free on Monday.
State TV urged citizens to come out and enjoy “the historic moment” of the players’ return, while other media have described the players as “our heroes.”
Jovana Gec, The Associated Press