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Tuesday, 2 July, 2002, 20:26 GMT 21:26 UK

Fanfare for Brazil's heroes

Brazil's World Cup-winning players have been welcomed home by hundreds of thousand of euphoric fans.

Celebrations started as the plane taxied down the runway with victorious captain Cafu and coach Luiz Felipe Scolari leaning out of the cockpit windows to wave Brazilian flags.

" I am very happy and I am sure all of Brazil is very happy "

The Varig Airlines plane - its fuselage decorated with pictures of the footballing heroes - received a military escort as it flew the last few miles into Brasilia.

The plane even circled clear blue skies above the huge city for 15 minutes to allow the whole city a chance to salute the team's homecoming from Japan.

As the plane came to a halt and Cafu appeared at the doorway to hold aloft the Fifa World Cup trophy won in the 2-0 victory against Germany, Brasilia went wild.

Fireworks exploded in the sky, an air force band struck up a samba rhythm and the crowds - almost all dressed in the national colours of yellow and green - screamed in delight.

Cafu was followed down the steps by Brazilian Soccer Confederation president Ricardo Teixeira and the rest of the players, every one of whom was cheered enthusiastically.

It is the fifth time Brazil has won the World Cup, but this one seemed just as sweet.

The victorious team clambered onto two huge trucks for the journey to the Presidential Palace.

Several hundred thousand fans lined the route and it took the convoy four hours to travel the 15-kilometre (nine-mile) route to the Plaza of the Three Powers.

Once there, President Fernando Henrique Cardoso hugged the team and then took the trophy, kissed it and held it aloft.

President Cardoso angered some of the team by comparing football success to the potential of the economy.

When Brazil struggled to make the World Cup Finals in Japan, Mr Cardoso had said not qualifying would be a bigger disaster for the country than the economic crisis.

Rivaldo commented that it would have been nice to have the president's support in bad times as well as good.

But politics is unlikely to dampen the celebrations that will continue in Brazil.

The team will take part in two more parades in the cities of Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo before the excitement gets a chance to calm down.

Ronaldo, the winner of the World Cup's Golden Boot top-scoring prize, summed up the mood: "I am very happy and I am sure all of Brazil is very happy."

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