Real parade in league triumph
Thousands of jubilant Real Madrid fans swamped the centre of the Spanish capital on Thursday to see their heroes parade in an open-top bus in celebration of their league title success.
"Champions! Ole, ole!" yelled the crowd, as coach Jose Mourinho, top scorer Cristiano Ronaldo, captain Iker Casillas and the rest of the team waved from the bus, to the sound of fire crackers and horns.
Fans of all ages crowded the Plaza de Cibeles, a square recently more used to angry protests against the economic crisis than the joyful outpouring of the 'Madridistas', revelling in their first league victory for four years.
"We're so proud. We're going to dance, drink and have a good time," said Carlos Caleno, a 31-year-old Ecuadorean who came to cheer his adopted team wrapped in Real's white flag.
"Things are hard at the moment. But football makes you forget all your problems."
"Tonight we can forget the crisis," said his friend Armando Mena, 39, dressed in a black Madrid strip and cap, as they waited for the team's bus to make its way down the Castellana avenue.
Another friend of theirs, a Barcelona fan, stood nearby in silence.
Real's 3-0 away win over Athletic Bilbao on Wednesday sealed the league title, putting them seven points clear of last year's winners, arch rivals Barcelona, with just two games to go.
It was Real's first league title since 2008 and extended their record number of Spanish league wins to 32.
"We've been waiting for four years, but at last the league is ours!" said Juan, a 23-year-old student. "We've had to suffer. But when we won away to Barcelona (on April 24), I knew we had done it."
"It has been hard, so this is satisfying," said Monica Garcia, 39, who came with her 14-year-old daughter from the suburbs for the celebration, dressed in the team's white strip.
"I have always been a Madridista and will be until I die."
City authorities had put up barricades to protect the square's central fountain of Cibeles, the ancient goddess of nature depicted on a chariot pulled by lions.
At the climax of Thursday's celebration, Casillas mounted a platform to perform a traditional team victory ceremony: hanging a Real Madrid flag around the statue's neck.
Many Spanish newspapers, not least the pro-Madrid half of the partisan sporting press, bore photographs of Mourinho being thrown into the air by joyful players celebrating in Bilbao.
"The Best!" declared the front page of the biggest selling daily Marca.
Barcelona-based papers were less enthusiastic, focussing instead on Barca superstar Lionel Messi's hat-trick against Malaga and his tally of 46 league goals this season, which currently exceeds Ronaldo's 44.
"It's a bit early to talk about the end of an era for Barca," said Fernando Piqueras, a Madrid fan holding his six-year-old son on his shoulders at Thursday's celebration.
"They have have played very well this season. But I think that is even more to the credit of Real Madrid."