MADRID - Spain captain Iker Casillas was first out of the aeroplane and held the World Cup aloft at the top of the steps as the team arrived back in Madrid for the start of the official celebrations yesterday.
Spain won the World Cup for the first time, beating the Netherlands 1-0 in extra time in South Africa on Sunday, and soon after were winging their way back home.
The goal was scored by Andres Iniesta.
The plane landed at Madrid's Barajas airport at about 4pm (2pm SA time) where they were greeted by hundreds of airport workers who were waving flags and chanting "Champions!" in temperatures that were touching 40°C.
The squad quickly boarded a bus on the apron and were taken to a hotel in the city centre to change in preparation for an audience with King Juan Carlos, who had been unable to attend the final in Johannesburg on doctors' orders after an illness.
The team was expected to meet Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, who was also unable to make it to Soccer City Stadium, before setting off across the streets of the capital in an open-topped bus.
The bus tour was set to finish at a specially erected stage on the banks of the river Manzanares for a party in front of thousands of fans, many of whom were already taking up their places.
Millions of people also danced, cheered and set off fireworks in an all-night, football-induced delirium after Spain's first World Cup triumph.
The centre of Madrid became a sea of red and gold - the national colours - as huge crowds poured onto the streets to celebrate Spain's victory.
"Iniesta Presidente! Iniesta Presidente!" chanted one group of fans.
Others imitated bullfighters and waved large Spanish flags over passing cars while chanting "Ole!"
Several groups were formed on Facebook calling on the government to declare yesterday a national holiday to allow fans to recover from the festivities.
"Champions," wrote right-wing newspaper ABC on its front page, below a photo of Real Madrid keeper Iker Casillas holding up the World Cup trophy, surrounded by his teammates.
Sports daily AS said on its front page that Iniesta "scored the most important goal in our history", while the sports daily Marca said his goal "lifted Spanish football to the highest possible level". - Reuters and Sapa-AFP