Heroes` welcome for World Cup winning Spanish team

Madrid: As Spain returned to Madrid Monday to a welcome befitting their status as freshly-crowned world champions FIFA president Sepp Blatter delivered a glowing appraisal to World Cup hosts South Africa.

Spain added the global crown to their European title thanks to Andres Iniesta`s extra-time winner in the 1-0 win over Holland in Sunday`s final at Soccer City which brought the curtain down on the first ever World Cup staged on the African continent.

The flight from Johannesburg carrying Iniesta and his teammates touched down in Madrid at 1300 GMT with the first to emerge from the plane team captain Iker Casillas clutching the World Cup trophy in his arms.

A welcoming committee of over one million Spaniards is expected to turn out to greet Vicente Del Bosque`s side as they parade in an open-top bus later through the streets of the Spanish capital.

Spain`s triumph triggered an all-night party in Madrid with the centre of the city transformed into a sea of red and gold.

One group of fans chanted "Iniesta Presidente! Iniesta Presidente!" as they marched along the centre of the Gran Via.

Blatter meanwhile, in his traditional `end-of-term` World Cup report, was fulsome in his praise for the way South Africa had organised this massive global event.

"I would say now they deserve a nine on 10, and a nine on 10 at the university level is a doctorate summa cum laude, so it`s the highest," he told a press conference.

"Perfection does not exist in our life, also not in the World Cup."

Critics had feared South Africa`s high crime rate and poor public transport would jeopardise the World Cup, but the tournament went off without any major problems.

Blatter commented: "A big compliment to South Africa, a big compliment to the people of South Africa, a big compliment to the government of South Africa for all the guarantees they have given and met.”

"They can be proud. The benefit and the compliments have to go to South Africa and not to FIFA."

FIFA general secretary Jerome Valcke said security at the tournament had been almost flawless.

"I`d like to thank the South African police service for what they have done," he said.

"There was not a single incident, nothing which would have risked the World Cup, during all the 32 days."

After a bruising climax to the month-long footballing showcase Del Bosque described his country`s victory as "a reward for beautiful football".

"Spain, the country, deserves this triumph. This goes beyond sport. We have to celebrate and are delighted to be able to offer this victory to all the people of Spain," he added.

Del Bosque issued a warning to Germany, Brazil, and the other vanquished footballing nations intent on gaining their revenge on Spain at the next World Cup in Brazil in 2014.

"Our efforts never end. This World Cup draws from what we did at the Euro 2008 tournament. It`s the continuation of a very good legacy," he said.

Cesc Fabregas, who set up Iniesta`s winner, agreed with his boss.

"We have great players who are coming through and Spanish football is just growing," warned the Arsenal star.

As for the runners-up, Holland were due to land at Amsterdam-Schiphol`s airport at 15:30GMT Monday.

They will be escorted into Dutch airspace by a F-16 fighter jet painted orange for the occasion.

Bert van Marwijk`s side will be received on Tuesday in The Hague by Queen Beatrix before parading in a boat along Amsterdam`s canals.

As well as returning with the ultimate prize in football Casillas was voted FIFA`s goalkeeper of the tournament, with Spain taking home the fair play award.

Uruguay striker Diego Forlan was awarded the Golden Ball as the best player of the World Cup, the Atletico Madrid striker Forlan grabbing five goals as his country finished in fourth place.

Germany`s Thomas Mueller was named Young Player of the World Cup and picked up the Golden Boot for the top scorer.

Bureau Report

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