Croatia given heroes' welcome in Zagreb after World Cup final defeat

Tens of thousands of people turned up at a celebration for Croatia in Zagreb on Monday despite their 4-2 loss to France in the World Cup final a day earlier.

Fans wearing red and white and waving Croatia flags poured into the streets in the city centre to greet the players, giving them a heroes' welcome as they passed in an open bus and signed autographs.

Croatian air force jets escorted the plane as it returned from Russia, entered the country's air space and flew over Zagreb.

"Champions! Champions!" roared the crowds as the players emerged from the plane and stepped on a red carpet placed on the tarmac at the Zagreb airport.

Although the team finished second in the World Cup, the success has been the described as the greatest in Croatia's sporting history, boosting national pride and sense of unity in a country that gained its independence from the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s.

Croatia's state railway company halved ticket prices so fans could travel to Zagreb, and city authorities said public transportation around the capital would be free on Monday.

Defender Dejan Lovren said that while he was disappointed to have lost because he believes Croatia were the better team, he was pleased with what they accomplished.

"I am proud of what we achieved -- second in the world," Lovren said. "I'm proud of everyone and for the country. We have regrets now when we look at [refereeing] decisions, [because] it doesn't make sense anymore. It's hard to describe.

"Maybe after a couple of months I will have everything straight. It's hard now as I am some moments sad and some moments happy. Overall, I am proud."

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.