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Thousands welcome Croatian gold medal winners

Tens of thousands of people packed the capital's main square on Tuesday to welcome home the men's handball team, winners of the gold medal at the Athens Olympic Games.
PTI | By Reuters, Zagreb
PUBLISHED ON AUG 31, 2004 07:42 PM IST

Tens of thousands of people waving Croatian flags packed the capital's main square on Tuesday to welcome home the men's handball team, winners of the gold medal at the Athens Olympic Games.

Cars drove around the Ban Jelacic square blaring their horns and brandishing the traditional red-and-white chequered flag.

The 80,000 strong crowd erupted in screams and applause as the speaker announced each player and they climbed on stage.

Triple Olympic Alpine skiing champion Janica Kostelic congratulated the team. "Their feat is beyond words," she said.

Croatia, also world handball champions, beat Germany 26-24 in the final last Sunday, after winning the previous seven games, to send the sports-crazed nation into a frenzy of celebration. It was the former Yugoslav republic's only gold at the Games.

"We got them all, didn't we?" coach Lino Cervar, nicknamed Woody Allen for his resemblance to the US movie director and actor, told the crowd.

"Look up to our players, let us stop quarrelling and work for a better future for the sake of all our citizens," said Cervar, who is also a deputy in the national parliament.

Apart from handball, Croatia also won two silver and two bronze medals. The Adriatic city of Split - home to six medal winners - is staging a huge welcome on Wednesday.

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