Spain's party of lifetime after World Cup triumph

Spanish football fans in Madrid
Image caption Across the country football fans chanted "I am Spanish!"

Spain is enjoying the party of a lifetime, savouring the moment that its football team became world champions.

On Monday morning the crowd began to build again along Madrid's riverside in front of a giant stage - ready to greet the winning team.

"We didn't sleep all night, we've been out celebrating!" one man admitted, before his flag-clad friends surrounded him, and burst into yet another raucous chorus of Viva Espana.

"We've been partying in the streets and in the fountains."

Another screwed the top off a huge plastic replica world cup to reveal the frothy beer inside.

"We've been drinking through the night!" he laughed.

Welcome respite

It is hardly surprising. This was Spain's first World Cup final, and they won it.

Image caption The team's victory has lifted the nation

The headline in El Mundo newspaper captured the mood: "We're Champions, and it's not a dream!"

So across the city, fans have been snapping up replica shirts, scarves, hats and banners from stalls - souvenirs of a moment of sporting history.

It is the first sign that perhaps the huge feel-good factor provided by this win can help Spain's struggling economy.

The team's victory has certainly lifted the nation, at least briefly. With mass unemployment and recession, Spaniards have not had much to smile about recently. So for many, this is a welcome respite.

World Cup fever also appears to have united this diverse country, like never before. Across Spain, including in autonomous Catalonia, fans have poured onto the streets wrapped in the national flag. Their proud, common chant: "I am Spanish!"

And as the champions themselves landed from South Africa, the pilot thrust the flag from the cockpit windows.

Then, there was the first glimpse of the World Cup itself - as team captain and goalkeeper Iker Casillas emerged from the plane.

King Juan Carlos was the first to pass on the nation's praise. Next, the squad visited Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero. He has already hailed "an epic win".

Painting the sky

And finally, the highlight came - a lap of honour through the main streets of Madrid.

The World Cup winners have taken an open-top bus around the Spanish capital. As the bus slowly edged through streets packed with cheering supporters, the players on board passed their trophy from hand to hand in triumph.

In a park near the royal palace, many thousands more fans have packed the riverbank, to greet the team. Firemen have been hosing them down in the baking heat, but that has not damped their spirits.

"I had to come to see the people, feel the atmosphere, soak up the love," Lucas Vidal laughed, a Spanish flag knotted like a cape over his shoulders. He travelled back from Los Angeles to be here for the final.

"People here are crazy about football. Last night, I partied until seven o'clock in the morning. I was just hugging everyone I met!"

As the fans waited to greet their new national heroes, dancing and singing, jet planes roared overhead, painting the entire sky in the red-and-yellow of the flag.

Hours after it began, Spain's World Cup party is still in full swing.

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