Chile get heroes' welcome despite World Cup exit

SANTIAGO (Reuters) - Thousands of Chileans skipped work and school on Thursday to give a heroes' welcome to their national team returning from the soccer World Cup after one of their best performances ever.

Chile exited the tournament on Monday after losing to Brazil in the second round in South Africa. However, in the group stage they enjoyed two consecutive wins, something not seen since they got third place when the cup was played on their home turf in 1962.

On Thursday, hordes of fans lined the streets of the capital Santiago as a bright red bus carried the players to the presidential palace.

"This has been Chile's best World Cup abroad in history. To be one of the 10 best teams in the world brings great pride to all Chileans," an elated President Sebastian Pinera told a cheering crowd outside the palace.

Enigmatic Argentine coach Marcelo Bielsa kept a low profile during the visit amid speculation that he could leave his post.

Fans cheered for Bielsa to stay with the team he has transformed from one of the worst in South America to one of the best in three years.

(Reporting by Brad Haynes, Molly Rosbach and Felipe Iturrieta; Editing by Clare Fallon)