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Last Updated: Monday, 10 July 2006, 20:51 GMT 21:51 UK
Italy squad given heroes' welcome
Gennaro Gattuso (right) and team-mates celebrate in Rome
Gennaro Gattuso (right) and team-mates celebrate in Rome
Italy's World Cup-winning squad have paraded through Rome with their trophy, in front of thousands of fans.

The victorious squad flew back from Germany on Monday, touching down at Pratica di Mare, just south of the capital, 15 minutes late at 1745 BST.

Their first appointment was a meeting with President Giorgio Napolitano and Prime Minister Romano Prodi.

The players then travelled by open-top bus to the Circus Maximus, where they showed off the World Cup trophy.

With an estimated 500,000 supporters packing the streets of Rome, it took the bus hours longer than expected to fight its way through the throngs and reach the Circus Maximus.

Italy's footballers had also left the meeting with Napolitano and Prodi late, with the players, coach Marcello Lippi, technical staff and directors of the Italian football association having all been awarded the Order of Merit of the Republic - one of the state's highest honours.

Fabio Cannavaro
Cannavaro arrives in Italy with the World Cup trophy

But there was no hint of any trouble, with thousands of fans seemingly happy to wait for hours just to get a glimpse of their heroes, who beat France 5-3 on penalties on Sunday to win their fourth World Cup.

Once they reached the Circus Maximus, the players appeared on stage, dancing and waving, as the crowd stretched out before them, with many thousands of them waving Italian flags.

Captain Fabio Cannavaro held the trophy aloft as his team-mates joined in with a rendition of Queen's 'We are the Champions', the ubiquitous football celebration anthem.

The trophy was passed around the members of the squad, as they all took their turn to hold it above their heads. One of the biggest cheers was reserved for Francesco Totti, the star of the local club Roma.

Alessandro Del Piero, who scored a goal in the semi-final win over Germany, took off his shirt and threw it into the crowd, posing bare-chested in front of the masses.

Any despondency over the match-fixing scandal engulfing Italian football appeared to be set aside for one evening of celebration.

On Sunday, the country had taken to the streets following the match against France, which saw Zinedine Zidane sent off following a headbutt on Marco Materazzi.

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Fans soak up amazing finale
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