ATHENS, (Reuters) - Greece’s World Cup squad received a heroes’ welcome home on their return to Athens on Tuesday after reaching the World Cup last 16 for the first time in their history.
Over 200 supporters greeted the players at Eleftherios Venizelos airport in an impromptu gathering, chanting loudly and embracing them as they made their way through the arrivals hall.
The Greeks lost on penalties to 10-man Costa Rica in a second-round match in Recife on Sunday after a match in which they missed several opportunities ended 1-1 in extra time.
“We thank all the people who came here and all Greeks," midfielder Kostas Katsouranis told reporters.
"Unfortunately, we could not give them a little more joy for a while longer. We are proud and we thank the fans who recognise this.”
Fanis Gekas, whose shootout penalty was saved by Costa Rica goalkeeper Keylor Navas to send the Greeks out, thanked the supporters.
"For me it means so much, such love is the best reward for us,” he said.
Although there was no official gathering organised by the Hellenic Football Federation or the government, the state was represented by minister of sport Giannis Adrianos, who pledged to follow through on the team’s wish to forfeit theirbonuses for a new training centre.
"Today is a day for our national team," he said.
"I want to say a big thank you from the bottom of my heart, like all Greeks. Also, it’s the obligation of the state for the issue of the training centre, the Prime Minister’s interest is a given and we will begin planning.”
Outgoing Greece coach Fernando Santos was conspicuous by his absence, the 59-year-old Portuguese having returned to his homeland after his contract expired.
(Editing by Ed Osmond)