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Football team receive heroes' welcome

(Keystone)

Thousands of fans raised the roof at Zurich airport with an ear-splitting reception for the returning Swiss soccer team who have qualified for the 2006 World Cup.

The players looked bewildered by the scenes that were an improvement on their welcome at Istanbul on Monday when they were pelted with eggs and forced to wait for hours at the airport.

But they remained calm enough to ride out a storm during Wednesday night's match against Turkey and qualify for the finals in Germany next year, despite losing 4-2 thanks to two precious away goals.

The moments of frenzy at the final whistle, when several players were kicked and Stephane Grichting was hospitalised, must have had the players wishing for a swift return home.

The team's return flight was delayed by half an hour, but Swiss efficiency took over as soon as it landed and the players were through passport control within 20 minutes and had their bags in half that time.

The waiting supporters, decked out in replica kits and waving flags, greeted their heroes with a deafening roar backed up by an impromptu band of trumpets, drums, air horns and, of course, cow bells.

"They have made us all proud, not only by qualifying for the World Cup, but also by the way they came through the hell in Istanbul," supporter Roger Bucher told swissinfo.

"We want to make up for the bad treatment they suffered by giving them a proper reception. They gave us something to cheer about last night and we want to let them know how much it means to the Swiss people."

Tight squeeze

Those who could not fit in to Terminal One pressed themselves against the windows to get a look while the fans inside made use of every vantage point they could find, including some youngsters who found space on top of the entrance porch.

Switzerland have qualified for their eighth World Cup tournament, and their first since 1994 in the USA. And 71-year-old Vera Hüsler, who was mingling with the predominantly more youthful fans, said she was determined to see the team play in Germany.

"I wanted to see them the last time they reached the finals, but America was too far away," she told swissinfo. "I have never seen them play in the World Cup, but this time I will make sure I get my tickets."

The supporters were particularly vocal when they caught sight of Marco Streller, whose goal deep into the second half sealed Switzerland's place in the World Cup finals.

But one of the biggest cheers of the day was reserved for 20-year-old Valon Behrami, who has been labelled Switzerland's answer to England star David Beckham in some magazines because of his looks.

"I've got his [replica] shirt and I want to get his autograph today," said Maria Roth, 16. "He's my favourite player."

swissinfo, Matthew Allen at Zurich airport

Key facts

Switzerland lost 4-2 on Wednesday against Turkey but their two away goals in Istanbul ensured they reached the World Cup finals as their 2-0 victory in the first leg of the play-off left the scores tied 4-4 on aggregate.
The loss on Wednesday was the first of their qualifying campaign.
Switzerland have played in seven previous World Cup finals, the last being in the US in 1994.

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