Spain celebrates World Cup win; Dutch blame Paul the Octopus
As fans of Spain luxuriate in the glow of the country's first World Cup championship, fans of the Netherlands search for an explanation of what went wrong. Some blame the referee, others point to Paul the Octopus.
Johannesburg, South Africa — Rafael Ramos traveled here from the Spanish capital of Madrid to watch his team, Spain's "Red Fury," win the World Cup. One doesn’t travel thousands of miles to watch one’s team lose. But when victory finally came, with a goal in the 116th minute by Spanish midfielder Andrés Iniesta, Mr. Ramos still couldn’t quite believe his team had actually won.
"It is like I'm dreaming. I can't believe this,” said Ramos at an outdoor fan park in the Johannesburg suburb of Sandton. “It is a moment of great pride. I think we played well and deserved to win. I'm going to party until tomorrow morning. This is fantastic. I have got a friend who stays here in Johannesburg and he has promised me a big barbeque tomorrow."
In a country where the larger portion of white South Africans – and even a fair number of black South Africans – trace their ancestry to the Netherlands, Spanish fans have been very much the minority. A sea of Oranje supporters, clad in orange suits, orange wigs, and among the more daring, clingy orange mini-dresses seemed to be on the ascendant before the game.
But it was Spanish fans who left Soweto’s Soccer City stadium jubilant and triumphant, driving up and down Johannesburg’s major roadways waving flags, honking car horns and blowing vuvuzelas, and celebrating deep into the night, while the Dutch went into an orange funk.
Blame the referee?
Sports is a curious religion, of course. Adherents of one team tend to see only the good in their own team, and the bad in the other. Holland fans have roundly criticized the British referee for being too quick to call fouls on Dutch players, while Spain fans felt that he was too lenient, particularly with bruising midfielders Nigel de Jong and Mark van Bommel. It was one of the roughest World Cup finals on record, with 47 fouls, 13 yellow cards, and one red card against Dutch defender John Heitinga.
But victory has a way of washing away bitterness. When Spanish team captain Iker Casillas raised the golden World Cup trophy, Agatha Alvaro was in the stadium, draped in a Spanish flag, jumping up and down and tooting on her brand new vuvuzela.
"It was an awesome experience being at the stadium,” says Ms. Alvaro, who traveled from the Spanish island of Mallorca to watch the final at Soccer City. “I love Cesc Fàbregas, Sergio Ramos, and Carles Puyol. They were fantastic. I think Fàbregas raised the game for us when he came on as a substitute. I will celebrate this victory with my friends and fly out on Tuesday."
Jabulani Sikhosana, a pro-Spain fan from Roodepoort, South Africa, watched the game from a restaurant with his friends. But from his face, painted with the Spanish flag, you would have thought he had spent the night at the stadium, with 90,000 others.
"I support Spain because I love the La Liga, (the Spanish professional league),” says Mr. Sikhosana. "I'm a big fan of Barcelona and the fact that Iniesta [a Barcelona midfielder] scored the winning goal makes it special. I have already asked to be excused at work because we are going to party until tomorrow.”
"I'm really happy that Africa has managed to host this World Cup,” he adds. “It is amazing and I'm proud."
For Dutch fans, however, the loss to Spain was a more somber affair. One-hundred-and-twenty minutes of hard football and near misses between some of the best football players in the world has a way of sucking the wind out of you, especially when the result goes against you.
Or blame Paul the Octopus?
One Dutch fan, completely without irony, blamed the psychic predictions of a certain German octopus named Paul, who correctly predicted Netherlands would lose.
"Had it not been for this creature called Octopus Paul, which weakened our team by its predictions, Holland could have destroyed Spain,” says Walt van Vonk, emerging from Soccer City stadium after the game. "I am not taking anything away from Spain, but this creature's match outcome prediction was bad news."
Even Andrés Iniesta himself gave a post-game salute to Paul. "As for the octopus, what can I say?" he told reporters. "We won and I'm sure the octopus will be more popular in Spain."
Other Dutch fans blame the red card on Dutch defender Heitinga for the ultimate collapse of the Dutch team.
"The expulsion of Johnny Heitinga severely affected our players’ moral. The dismissal gave the Spaniards the numerical advantage over Holland, hence the defeat, otherwise our boys played very well," said Daniel du Toit, another Dutch fan. If the match had remained scoreless, he adds, the Dutch would have won in a penalty shootout.
"This creature made 100 percent predictions, and when Paul (the Octopus) predicted that Spain would win the World Cup final, I strongly believe this had some negative impact to Netherlands' players,” says Mr. Goddard, coming out of the stadium. “This affected them psychologically and spiritually."