||ESPNsoccernet: World Cup
Monday, July 10, 2006
ESPNsoccernet: October 7, 11:27 PM UK
Jubilant Rome welcomes triumphant Azzurri home
ROME, July 10 (Reuters) - Hundreds of thousands of Italians gathered on Monday in Circus Maximus, one of ancient Rome's most famous stadiums, to fete their own conqering heroes after the national soccer team's World Cup victory in Germany.
A deafening roar, fireworks and a sea of flags greeted the
team's open-topped bus when, at almost 11:00 pm (2100 GMT), it
finally entered the vast rectangular arena that used to house
The crowd had been building since late afternoon after the
team returned home from a triumph that took minds off the
imminent outcome of a match-fixing trial.
The mayor's office estimated the crowd at 600,000, with
hundreds of thousands more who accompanied the bus in its
snail's paced progress from a reception at Prime Minister Romano
Prodi's residence a few kilometres way.
The revelers had prepared for the party by parading an
ornate funeral hearse carrying a coffin covered by a French flag
to symbolise Italy's victory in Sunday's final.
Team coach Marcello Lippi and his players clambered onto a
stage and raised the golden Cup one by one as loudspeakers
blared out Italy's national anthem and rock group Queen's
modern-day sporting anthem, 'We are the Champions.'
On a hot night under a full moon the team danced and sang
along with abandon for about 40 minutes, led by Juventus striker
Alessandro Del Piero who stripped to the waist.
At a more sober ceremony in the afternoon Prodi had greeted
the players in a packed square outside his official residence
and raised the Cup alongside Lippi and captain Fabio Cannavaro,
one of the tournament's outstanding performers.
'Thank you for restoring to our national soccer, hit by an
unprecedented storm, the dignity it deserves,' Prodi told the
players, who were presented to the crowd and awarded individual
Earlier the pilot of the team's plane hung an Italian flag
out of the cockpit window as it landed at a military airport
south of Rome before Cannavaro and Lippi emerged to cheers from
the waiting fans.
'I don't know if we are in seventh heaven or sixth heaven
but we are pretty high up there,' Lippi told Italian television
aboard the plane.
In a sombre reflection that may have alluded to the
match-fixing scandal currently before an Italian court, he said:
'We're happy for a little while, not for long but for a little
Federica Cotticelli, 19, was among the thousands waiting on
the tarmac below, draped in the Italian flag. 'We came because
we're only in our 20s and didn't see the World Cup in 1982. For
us, this is the first one that counts,' she said.
Italy's President Giorgio Napolitano announced he would be
formally honouring the squad by making them members of the
'merit order of the republic'.
Italy's penalty shootout win over France has become an
instant source of pride for a country marred by scandals in
recent years, from corruption trials of ex-prime minister Silvio
Berlusconi to a multibillion-euro fraud at food group Parmalat.
But even as the celebrations hit high gear, the supporters
of four of Italy's elite clubs were turning their attention to a
sports tribunal in Rome which is set to announce its verdict in
the match-fixing trial.
Many fans of Juventus, AC Milan, Fiorentina and Lazio are
hoping the World Cup exhilaration might soften the punishments
the tribunal is expected to announce, possibly on Tuesday.
Eight Juventus players performed in Sunday's final, five for
Italy and three for France, and the club's supporters are aghast
at the prospect that their stars could be thrown out of Italian
soccer's top flight or quit the club to avoid such a fate.
In his brief speech with the players in Rome, Prodi seemed
to rule out an amnesty for the alleged offences. 'Soccer must
have its great clean-up,' he said.
A sports prosecutor has recommended Juventus be relegated to
at least the third division, the annulment of the club's last
two Italian titles and a deduction of points at the start of
He has recommended the other clubs should be sent to the
second division, also with points deducted. The clubs have
denied the charges.
Shortly before the Italian team's plane arrived, Juventus
announced that Didier Deschamps would replace coach Fabio
Capello, who left for Real Madrid last week.