Thousands line streets of Barcelona to celebrate

Thousands of people packed the streets of central Barcelona on Thursday to hail the return of the city’s football team after its victory over Manchester United in the Champions League final (see Photos).

In a veritable sea of blue and maroon – the team’s colors – fans surrounded the open-topped team bus carrying the players as it crawled its way from the Columbus statue at the port end of the famous Las Ramblas boulevard and up along an 8-kilometer (5-mile) route to the Camp Nou stadium.

The players, who had arrived from Rome at 6 p.m. (1600 GMT) – wore team flags as capes and head scarves and joined the crowd in taking photographs and video footage.

At the stadium, tens of thousands more supporters were waiting to greet them later for a music and fireworks party.

The joyful atmosphere was a welcome contrast to the violence that marred celebrations after the game ended Wednesday with more than 100 people arrested and 153 injured in the Catalonia region.

Police fired rubber bullets to disperse groups of supporters after clashes in the city’s main square and down Las Ramblas.

Fans overturned barricades and threw bottles and stones at police and also set trash containers on fire, smashed windows and damaged traffic lights.

Police said 119 arrests were made in Barcelona for public disorder, vandalism and disobeying police orders, while 15 others were apprehended in the Catalan towns of Lleida, Tarragona, Girona, Granollers and Igualada.

Eighty-nine police officers were among the injured, with two taken to hospital. In total, 23 people needed hospital treatment, including a camaraman from Spanish state TV.

Barcelona city hall said that around 500 people were involved in the violence, which caused damage valued at between €74,000 and €100,000 ($102,700 and $138,900).

Trouble had also flared at previous celebrations in Barcelona earlier this month after the team won the Copa del Rey and then the Spanish league title.

An estimated 100,000 jubilant supporters gathered at the Canaletes fountain on Las Ramblas, the traditional site for celebrating the club’s wins, soon after the team beat defending champion Manchester United 2-0 in Rome on Wednesday.

Some lit flares and set off fireworks to toast a victory that meant Barcelona had become the first Spanish team to win the treble of Europe’s top club competition together with the domestic league and cup in a single season.

Only four European teams have previously achieved the feat – United, Ajax, PSV Eindhoven and Celtic.

On Thursday, Spain’s press hailed Barcelona and its first-season coach, 38-year-old Pep Guardiola, for the greatest season in the club’s history.

National El Pais said Barcelona “crowns itself the best team in the world,” while sports daily Marca described the Catalan team as “a work of art.”

Sports daily As added: “Actually, yes, perfection does exist,” in praise of the Catalan team’s silky skills.

Guardiola, the sixth man to have won the European Cup as both player and coach, received lavish praise.

“No coach in the world has achieved what Pep has in his first season. How do we thank Pep for changing the dynamics of the dressing room and producing the best football ever seen?” asked Barcelona-based daily Sport.

Barcelona has the chance to win three more titles later this year.

In August, it plays Athletic Bilbao in the Spanish Super Cup and Shakhtar Donetsk in the European Super Cup. Guardiola’s team will then compete in December for the Club World Cup in Abu Dhabi, the United Arab Emirates.