Viva Espana! A country rocks as Spain rules soccer
MADRID (AP) – A roaring celebration rocked Spain on Sunday, with some 300,000 people in the capital’s downtown forming a sea of red and yellow in tribute to the nation’s first World Cup title.
The country’s flag and team colors were in full display on Paseo de Recoletos boulevard as hordes of fans watched the match live on gigantic TV screens.
Then, as the final whistle marked Spain’s 1-0 victory over the Netherlands in extra time, fireworks lighted up the sky. Crowds began dancing and singing one of the team’s battle cries, “Let’s Get Them.”
Television shots showed partying in jammed town squares across the country, from Zaragoza in the northeast to Seville in the southwest. The celebrations were easily the biggest in the country in living memory.
A roar rose from Madrid, and almost certainly across the nation, when goalkeeper Iker Casillas lifted the cup in South Africa. Spain, long tagged a perennial underachiever, had never before gone to the World Cup final.
In the Netherlands, the mood was funereal. Fans wept and hugged in The Hague at the final whistle and tossed of handfuls of orange confetti into the air that had been intended for a victory party.
“It’s such a deception. We were so close. I feel empty, said Sander Lubbers, a 33-year-old shopworker.
“It’s a great shame, but Spain was the better team.” said Arend-jan Meijer.
“It’s only football,” he added, as he headed for home kicking his way through piles of plastic beer cups.
In Madrid, the beer tasted better. Vuvuzuela horns so typical of the matches in South Africa this World Cup, had droned throughout the city and car horns began to honk incessantly.
Tens of thousands put up with more than 100-degree heat from early in the day to get the best positions before giant screens in major plazas in towns and cities. In Madrid, emergency ambulance services treated dozens of people who had fainted.
Television images even showed crowds waving Spanish flags in the city of Barcelona, where more than 1.1 million protested on Saturday to demand autonomy for their Catalonia region.
Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, whose poll numbers have dropped due to the country’s economic woes, said he celebrated the win with some Catalan sparkling wine.
“We raised a glass of cava and a few tears came to my eyes, which is unusual for me, because I know how to control my emotions,” Zapatero said. “They were 120 intense minutes for me. It was an epic victory. We all feared penalties.”
On the street, 22-year-old Marta Seco was overcome with emotion.
“This is the greatest sporting event in the history of the country,” she shouted with tears in her eyes.
The fiesta wasn’t even contained to Spain. In Toronto, for instance, Spanish fans also took to the streets, dancing on a U-Haul truck, a streetcar, and even a transit shelter.
In Mexico City, about 2,500 revelers converged at the Plaza de Cibeles in the trendy Roma Norte district. They banged drums, blew vuvuzelas and marched around the fountain there – an exact copy of the monument with the same name in Madrid – chanting and singing.
Back in Madrid, one banner amid the masses read “Octopus Paul, Forever!” and featured a crudely drawn picture of the octopus from Germany who became a pop culture sensation by correctly picking World Cup matches. He was right again about the final.
Police helicopters hovered over Madrid into the early hours of Monday and riot police protected major monuments.
Fans watching from a patio bar in a working-class neighborhood whooped in joy, yelling “Spain! Spain!” They danced on their bar chairs and hugged each other. Others yelled “Yes! Yes! The cup is now ours!”
The night sky of the Alcoron suburb was bright with fireworks and the bar patrons cheered each other with beer and sangria on a sweltering summer night, then joined in the dancing, dodging firecrackers tossed about by other fans.
“It’s just amazing, I almost don’t believe it,” said a beaming Feliciano Hernandez, a 25-year-old electrician. “I’m so proud, totally happy and living for the moment and not thinking about anything else right now.”
Nacho Moreno danced in the street waving the Spanish flag he had kept wrapped around his head for luck during the game as cars drove by, honking their horns in salute. He said he would probably drink until dawn to celebrate.
“It’s phenomenal! Spain won. I was real nervous but I knew it was possible,” said the 23-year-old waiter.