The team arrived home Monday to a massive nationwide party, with hundreds of thousands of Spaniards crowding the capital to wave flags and hug strangers.
Spain has Europe's highest unemployment rate, at nearly 25%, and double that for youth. Its economy in shambles after the collapse of its housing market, Spain recently accepted a bailout of up to $125 billion to rescue its troubled banks.
Soccer fans who couldn't afford a bar tab stood outside and peered through windows at television screens inside Madrid cafes Sunday, when Spain defeated Italy 4-0 in the final match of the tournament, held in Poland and Ukraine over the last three weeks.
Spain is the first team to ever win three back-to-back international tournaments: Euro 2008, the 2010 World Cup and now Euro 2012. It beat Italy with the largest-ever goal margin in any Euro final.
The team arrived home on an Iberia Airlines plane emblazoned with the words "Proud of Our National Team." Players met with the Spanish king and then motored through packed streets in an open-air bus to fans' cheers of "I am Spanish!" and "We are the champions!" A stage erected in front of Madrid's grandiose Cibeles Palace hosted bands that played late into the night.
"For at least these past few weeks, we could think about other things besides the economy -- football!" said 26-year-old graduate student Ignacio Hernando. "But it's true that we're having quite a bad year, and we're going to have another two or three, I expect, before things get better."
"This tournament shows we're the best at something else, at least, besides the economy," Hernando said, holding a beer and wearing a Spanish flag as a cape.
Another fan, 29-year-old Ivan Fernandez, was a bit more somber: "Tomorrow, the crisis will be here again."
But success on the soccer field has sparked jokes about what other tough jobs the Spanish national team, nicknamed "La Furia Roja," or the Red Fury, could take on. A cartoon published Monday in the Spanish newspaper El Mundo shows the team's coach, Vicente del Bosque, and several players dressed in business suits, preparing for a new profession.
"The government of Prime Minister Del Bosque and his ministers," read the caption.
-- Lauren Frayer
Photo: Firemen, unseen, spray water on Spanish fans as they celebrate Spain's Euro 2012 soccer championship in Madrid. Credit: Andres Kudacki / Associated Press