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1,000 fans welcome Italy home after Euro 2012

ROME (AP) A thousand fans cheered loudly, applauded and sang the national anthem when Italy coach Cesare Prandelli and his players returned to Rome after having lost the European Championship final.

The squad was first greeted by about 200 workers Monday as they stepped off the plane at Rome's Fiumicino airport before departing on one of the four coaches reserved for the Italian delegation.

"We are still bitterly disappointed, but we know that we had a great European Championship," captain Gianluigi Buffon said of the 4-0 loss to Spain in the final on Sunday. "We played the final against the strongest team and not in the best conditions."

The loudest cheers were reserved for Buffon, Daniele De Rossi, Mario Balotelli, Antonio Cassano and, above all, for Prandelli, who was beaming broadly.

The squad then attended a reception hosted by Italy President Giorgio Napolitano at the presidential palace, with Buffon introducing his teammates one by one.

"Everyone knew the tension you left in and with a team that has just been rebuilt and which still has a long way to go," Napolitano said. "When I say these things people often ask me whether I'm talking about football or Italy, and I have to say they are one and the same.

"I have never played football so I can't judge your efforts, but the passion and spirit you had and the sense of national pride really hit me. It was the best gift you could give me."

Napolitano sent a letter to the Italy players and staff after the semifinal victory over Germany and invited them to a reception, regardless of the result in the final.

"Thank you for the invite because it will help everyone understand that you have to acknowledge the performance above the result," Prandelli said. "We are proud to have represented Italy with those values that you wrote in the letter, which really touched us. After every match the lads asked me if you'd called because you are our No. 1 fan."

Prandelli gave Napolitano his runner-up medal. Andrea Pirlo and Balotelli presented him with an Italy pennant and football.

Updated July 2, 2012

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