" Campeones, Campeones, Ole, Ole, Ole!" was just one of the many chants ringing round the Canaletas fountain in Barcelona last night, where throngs of delirious fans - guys leaping round bare-chested, girls with faces pained red and yellow, families with young kids in tow - erupted in joyous celebration of a triumph 44 years in the making.
There were similar scenes in the Plaza Colon in Madrid, around the Mestella in Valencia and in squares the length and breadth of Andalucia. The entire county was a sea of red as fans took to the streets to toast a Spanish side that not only laid to rest the tag of underachievers, but also showcased a brand of skilful, attacking football that enthralled millions of their fans.
"Iker Casillas! Iker Casillas!" was another chant on the Ramblas of Barcelona. Particularly vociferous was a local lad named Andreu, who was leaping around in a Barca shirt. Could this be a genuine Culé singing the praises of a Real Madrid keeper? "Yes, it is, but only for today," he replied with a laugh. "In this team, there are no rivalries. Casillas is great, the best keeper in the world."
Then there is Gabriel, sporting a Spanish shirt, but with a crop of blond hair and a black, red and yellow wristband that betrays his origins. "I'm German, but my mother is Spanish," he told us, "so this was the best possible final for me. I'd have loved Germany to win, but that's ok as part of me feels Spanish. Today I feel close to both countries," added this native of Bonn.
Nor was he the only German on the streets of Spain last night, as many fans of the beaten finalists joined the party in plazas across the country. Proudly sporting Michael Ballack, Bastian Schweinsteiger and Miroslav Klose jerseys and with their faces painted in Germany's colours, they sportingly recognised Spain's triumph and consoled themselves by joining in the festivities with the locals.
Same language, different shirt
"I am Spanish, Spanish, Spanish" was another popular refrain heard last night. Among the multitude proclaiming their allegiance in Barcelona was a Mexican called Edgar, who had taken to the streets with some compatriots. "We've been living here for a year now and feel part of this country. But that's not the only reason we're here: the truth is that we've been captivated by the style of football this team have been playing. This EURO was a great tournament and Spain worthy champions," he said before rejoining the crowd.
Interestingly, not every red jersey was that of the La Roja. The deeper red of a dozen or so Liverpool shirts was also in evidence, as their wearers sang the praises of Fernando Torres, the man whose name proudly adorned their backs. "He'll never walk alone," declared James in a play on words on the club's anthem and motto. The 25-year-old had come with a group of friends to spend the weekend in Spain and celebrate with the compatriots of his Liverpool idol.
As the night wore on, the festivities showed no signs of abating. Having waited so long for a taste of glory, the fans were determined to enjoy their moment. One pair swept up in the passion of the night was the Spaniard Gaizka and Jill from the USA. Despite having only met while watching the match a few hours before, the beautiful game clearly worked its magic as the pair were already walking arm in arm...
By five in the morning, the Ramblas were slowly beginning to empty. The early editions of the newspapers were already arriving at the kiosks, proclaiming headlines like, "Champions!", "Spain conquers Europe" and "No longer a dream but reality". One inveterate reveller could be heard asking in a hoarse voice, "You don't have any Spanish flags left I suppose?" When answered in the negative, the fan tells us proudly: "We've been searching for ages and they're sold out everywhere." A fitting analogy for a night when the whole world saluted Spain.