Croatia welcomed like champions
ZAGREB, Croatia (AP):
In an outburst of national pride and joy, Croatia rolled out a red carpet and staged a euphoric welcome for the national team yesterday despite its loss to France in the FIFA World Cup final.
Tens of thousands of people wearing national red-and-white chequered colours and waving Croatian flags poured into the streets in the capital Zagreb to greet the team.
The joyful, singing crowd crammed the central squares and the route where the players passed in an open bus, greeting fans and signing autographs.
Police said more than 250,000 people came out in central Zagreb and many more along the route. The players' bus travelled for hours, often stopping when it was blocked by the crowds.
Thousands of fans, many coming from other parts of the country, began arriving in the centre in the early morning, and emergency medical services said they aided hundreds of fans who collapsed from exhaustion. City authorities brought in water tanks to the city centre.
Fans honking car horns, waving and shouting "Bravo! Bravo!" welcomed the bus as it slowly left the airport. The inscription at the front read: "Fiery heart, the pride of Croatia!" in reference to the name 'The Fiery', as the team is dubbed at home.
As the bus went by, fans followed on bicycles or on foot, waving. Large players' photos were displayed along the way amid a cacophony of noise and cheers.
The first Croatia team to reach the World Cup final showed off their silver medals and embraced the atmosphere in Zagreb.