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Croatia got a heroes welcome back home in Zagreb after their historic World Cup run

Croatia lost in the World Cup final. Croatians didn’t care.

Croatia didn’t win the 2018 World Cup. You wouldn’t know that by looking at the throngs of proud fans in Zagreb who waited to welcome their national team back home.

Thousands of supporters lined the streets of Zagreb and packed Ban Jelenic square to show their appreciation for the greatest team to ever don Croatia’s checkerboard red and white. Fervent fans lit flares and chanted “Champions! Champions!” just one day after the team’s remarkable World Cup run ended with a 4-2 defeat to France in the final.

Sunday’s loss capped the greatest Cup run in the nation’s brief history, and it didn’t go unappreciated in the Croatian capital. Fans waved flags and banners as they turned the city streets into a screaming sea of red, white, and blue:

An estimated crowd of more than 200,000 — more than five percent of the nation’s total population — sang and chanted their way through the celebration, which saw the national team arrive from Moscow, then make its way to a series of double-decker buses to soak in the adulation of a fervent crowd. If Croatia’s players were still feeling the sting of Sunday’s loss, they certainly made it hard to tell:

As the celebration arced into night, the Croatians in Zagreb showed no signs of slowing down.

After winding through the streets of Zagreb for six hours, the team finally made it to Ban Jelenic for their proper celebration. A crowd that had expanded to more than 500,000 waited.

Luka Modric, the 2018 Golden Ball winner as the tournament’s top player, led the crowd in a spirited chant:

Modric also brought a fan with Down syndrome up onto the stage to celebrate with him and his teammates as the party raged into the night.

He also brought a local nationalist singer with ties to Croatia’s fascist Ustasa movement up to the stage and requested he sing a song. So it wasn’t all good, but all in all, a pretty remarkable day in Zagreb.