Tens of thousands of people poured into the streets of Croatia’s capital Zagreb to stage a hero’s welcome for their national football team.
Huge crowds waving Croatian flags and wearing the national red and white colours greeted the players with excitement, despite the team losing to France in the World Cup final.
Cries of “Champions! Champions!” could be heard roaring across the city as football fans celebrated the country getting through to play the biggest match in football for the first time.
The small country – which has a population of four million people – has been enraptured by the international competition.
Croatia lost 4-2 to France in Moscow on Sunday but the team’s success has been described as the biggest in the nation’s sporting history.
Captain Luka Modric was honoured, winning the Golden Ball for being the player of the tournament.
Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic openly supported the team during their World Cup journey.
“Congratulations to the France team for this great victory! We are also very proud of our heroes who made us dream,” he tweeted after the final.
“Proud of the performance of the Croatia team who made a great match in the World Cup final. Thank you for this beautiful football!”
Zagreb’s central square was crammed with the energetic crowds, with many travelling from other parts of the country to take part in the celebrations. Croatia’s state railway company cut ticket prices by half so fans could get to the city.
The players passed in an open-top bus, greeting fans and signing autographs along the way.
State TV had urged citizens to come out and enjoy “the historic moment” on the players’ return.
Croatia dominated the opening quarter of the final, harrying the French back four with commendable discipline.
But a free kick in the 18th minute from Antoine Griezmann flicked off Croatian star Mario Mandzukic’s head and nestled into the far corner of the Croatian net.
Croatia equalised 11 minutes later and scored another goal in the 69th minute despite France’s three goals in between – but failed to score again in the last 20 minutes.