Cristiano Ronaldo and his beaten Portuguese teammates received a tumultuous welcome home when they touched down at Lisbon airport Thursday after flying back from Ukraine.
"Portugal ole! Portugal ole! Portugal ole!," fans shouted as the squad emerged with Ronaldo in their midst following their UEFA EURO 2012 semi-final defeat on penalties to holders Spain.
Paulo Bento's team smiled as fans held aloft scarves and flags while some sang the national anthem. Several players stopped to sign autographs before heading off for a summer break after the team's narrow elimination when a potential final against Germany or Italy and a possible first major trophy success had been coming into view.
"This reception gives me goosebumps. You can feel their affection and we want to thank them," said defender Pepe. "They know we deserved to be in the final."
It's super - the people are behind us. Thanks for everything," said Miguel Lopes, before boarding a coach to spirit the squad into the city. "We are very proud of what we achieved. They were all fantastic," said Humberto Coelho, vice-chairman of the Portuguese Football Federation. "We are so very proud of this team," cried out one fan in his 50s. "We know they gave everything."
A young woman agreed: "We are out but it was great while it lasted. They gave us great pleasure and we are very proud. I wanted to say bravo," she said, a bouquet of flowers in her hand.
Another young fan said: "We want to tell Ronaldo he did very well. they all played very well and they will go far."
Few fans had seen the team off amid general pessimism after a final warm-up brought a home loss to Turkey. But the team rallied after losing their opening game against Germany, beat Denmark and Holland and then the Czech Republic in the quarters before the Spanish edged them out.