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IN PICS: Real Madrid fans welcome home Champions League heroes

Tens of thousands of ecstatic fans lined the streets of the Spanish capital to greet Real Madrid's players as they returned home Sunday after winning their third Champions League title in a row in Kiev.

IN PICS: Real Madrid fans welcome home Champions League heroes
Photos: AFP
Elated fans cheered and waved club scarves as an open-top bus carrying the squad and the trophy made its way to the club's traditional celebration spot, the Plaza de Cibeles.

Some children sat on the shoulders of their parents to get a better look as the bus went by.

The giant white bus was emblazoned with the phrase “Campeones 13” and the club's crest to mark their record-extending 13th European Cup success.   

Team captain Sergio Ramos and other players waved and filmed the crowd with mobile phones from the top of the bus, which was escorted by police on horseback.

Ramos took the walkway set up over the plaza's fountain and draped the statue of the goddess Cybele with the club's scarf and flag as the crowd cheered.

He and Real Madrid left-back Marcelo then held up the trophy over their heads as white confetti rained down and the Queen anthem “We are the Champions” blared out from loudspeakers.

“I had to be here and celebrate this win with them,” Ivan Gonzalez, a 23-year-old student who wore a pink Cristiano Ronaldo jersey and a Real Madrid scarf wrapped around his neck, told AFP at the plaza.

'Pride and ambition'

The bus then made its way to Real's Santiago Bernabeu stadium where a celebration with fireworks will later be held.   

Roughly 80,000 people packed the stadium on Saturday night to watch Real's 3-1 Champions League final win over Liverpool on eight giant screens.   

The crowd erupted in delight at the final whistle, breaking out in familiar chants of “Campeones, campeones”.

Earlier on Sunday at a reception at the headquarters of the Madrid regional government, Ramos joked that winning the Champions League was “turning into a routine”.

“In the difficult moments, when people doubted us, this team showed it has pride and ambition, that it does not get tired of winning,” he added.   

“I think this is the key of this success, along with having a great coach.”   Real's “decimotercera,” or 13th title in the competition, moved them six clear of second-placed AC Milan in the all-time honours list, after lifting the trophy for a remarkable fourth time in five seasons.

Former French international Zidane also became the first coach to win three consecutive Champions League crowns, despite having spent less than three years at the helm.

'Legendary team'

The squad also stopped by Madrid city hall where they presented mayor Manuela Carmena with a jersey with the number 13 on the back that was signed by the players.

Carmena, who attended the match in Kiev, said Real had won thanks to the “magisterial leadership of its manager and the synergy of all its players”.   

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, a die-hard Real fan, sent a telegram to the club's president, Florentino Perez, to congratulate the team for their victory, which he said had “revalidated” the club's “continental leadership”.   

“Thank you for this sporting show that filled all sports lovers with emotion and pride, and for once again taking Spain's name to the highest levels of world sport,” he added in the telegram, his office said in a 
statement.   

Rajoy had planned to watch the match in person in Kiev but he cancelled the trip at the last minute after the main opposition Socialist party filed a no-confidence motion against his government in parliament.

Real's victory made the front page of all main Spanish newspapers on Sunday.   

“Madrid dominates Europe with a legendary team,” headlined top-selling daily El Pais below a photo of Ramos holding up the Champions League trophy surrounded by the rest of his teammates.

“An eternal Real Madrid,” wrote rival daily El Mundo while conservative daily ABC headlined: “A Real Madrid of legend”.

FOOTBALL

Putellas becomes second Spanish footballer in history to win Ballon d’Or

Alexia Putellas of Barcelona and Spain won the women's Ballon d'Or prize on Monday, becoming only the second Spanish-born footballer in history to be considered the best in the world, and claiming a win for Spain after a 61-year wait.

FC Barcelona's Spanish midfielder Alexia Putellas poses after being awarded thewomen's Ballon d'Or award.
FC Barcelona's Spanish midfielder Alexia Putellas poses after being awarded thewomen's Ballon d'Or award. Photo: FRANCK FIFE / AFP

Putellas is the third winner of the prize, following in the footsteps of Ada Hegerberg, who won the inaugural women’s Ballon d’Or in 2018, and United States World Cup star Megan Rapinoe, winner in 2019.

Putellas captained Barcelona to victory in this year’s Champions League, scoring a penalty in the final as her side hammered Chelsea 4-0 in Gothenburg.

She also won a Spanish league and cup double with Barca, the club she joined as a teenager in 2012, and helped her country qualify for the upcoming Women’s Euro in England.

Her Barcelona and Spain teammate Jennifer Hermoso finished second in the voting, with Sam Kerr of Chelsea and Australia coming in third.

It completes an awards double for Putellas, who in August was named player of the year by European football’s governing body UEFA.

But it’s also a huge win for Spain as it’s the first time in 61 years that a Spanish footballer – male or female – is crowned the world’s best footballer of the year, and only the second time in history a Spaniard wins the Ballon d’Or. 

Former Spanish midfielder Luis Suárez (not the ex Liverpool and Barça player now at Atlético) was the only Spanish-born footballer to win the award in 1960 while at Inter Milan. Argentinian-born Alfredo Di Stefano, the Real Madrid star who took up Spanish citizenship, also won it in 1959.

Who is Alexia Putellas?

Alexia Putellas grew up dreaming of playing for Barcelona and after clinching the treble of league, cup and Champions League last season, her status as a women’s footballing icon was underlined as she claimed the Ballon d’Or on Monday.

Unlike the men’s side, Barca’s women swept the board last term with the 27-year-old, who wears “Alexia” on the back of her shirt, at the forefront, months before Lionel Messi’s emotional departure.

Attacker Putellas, who turns 28 in February, spent her childhood less than an hour’s car journey from the Camp Nou and she made her first trip to the ground from her hometown of Mollet del Valles, for the Barcelona derby on January 6, 2000.

Barcelona's Spanish midfielder Alexia Putellas (R) vies with VfL Wolfsburg's German defender Kathrin Hendrich
Putellas plays as a striker for Barça and Spain. GABRIEL BOUYS / POOL / AFP

Exactly 21 years later she became the first woman in the modern era to score in the stadium, against Espanyol. Her name was engraved in the club’s history from that day forward, but her story started much earlier.

She started playing the sport in school, against boys.

“My mum had enough of me coming home with bruises on my legs, so she signed me up at a club so that I stopped playing during break-time,” Putellas said last year.

So, with her parent’s insistence, she joined Sabadell before being signed by Barca’s academy.

“That’s where things got serious… But you couldn’t envisage, with all one’s power, to make a living from football,” she said.

After less than a year with “her” outfit, she moved across town to Espanyol and made her first-team debut in 2010 before losing to Barca in the final of the Copa de la Reina.

She then headed south for a season at Valencia-based club Levante before returning “home” in July 2012, signing for Barcelona just two months after her father’s death.

In her first term there she helped Barca win the league and cup double, winning the award for player of the match in the final of the latter competition.

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