Salmantinos hail local hero Del Bosque

SALAMANCA, Spain, Oct 8 (Reuters) - Vicente del Bosque has been given a welcome more befitting a rock star than a football coach in his native Salamanca this week, where his World Cup-winning Spain team play Lithuania in a Euro 2012 qualifier.

Thousands of cheering and screaming Salmantinos, as locals are known, packed the modest Helmantico stadium on Thursday to hail the mild-mannered 59-year-old and watch their heroes such as captain Iker Casillas train for Friday's Group I match.

Hundreds more were waiting on Friday morning in a queue snaking around the stunning main square of the Castilian city to have their photographs taken next to the World Cup and European Championship trophies on display in a marquee.

"He is a reference point for the whole city and the number one Salmantino," said Jesus Jimenez, a 66-year-old retired plumber near the back of the queue.

"He is a marvel and we don't have a bad word to say about him. He has done a huge amount to promote our city."

Del Bosque was named a "favourite son" of the university town last month after engineering Spain's first World Cup triumph and also had a street named after him.

He was last on to the pitch at the Helmantico on Thursday and the crowd's reaction was reminiscent of a raucous Beatles concert rather than a light training session for Spain's first home match since the World Cup.


On Thursday, Del Bosque said the emotion of playing in his home town would not distract him from the task in hand.

"There is an emotional aspect, with many memories, but apart from that I don't think it's a special game," he told reporters.

"There will be a strong emotive element (on Friday) but we'll have no problem staying focused."

Del Bosque's record since taking over from Luis Aragones after Euro 2008 is impressive. Under his canny leadership, Spain have won 32 of 36 matches losing three.

A kindly father figure in contrast to the prickly Aragones, Del Bosque has quietly coaxed the best out of his hugely talented squad.

"The fact that Spain is coming to play an official match here is matter of pride and that Vicente del Bosque is in charge is a huge honour," Angel Huerta, a former player at the local football club told Friday's edition of La Gaceta daily.