Sweet football victory helps Spain forget economic crisis

Spain's defeat of Italy in the UEFA cup is a welcome morale boost for many Spaniards.

Andres Kudacki/AP
Spanish fans celebrate during the viewing of Euro 2012 soccer championship final match between Spain and Italy at the Fan Zone in Madrid, Spain, Sunday, July 1.

Today Spaniards bask under a red blaze of pride and triumph. The national football team – nicknamed La Roja for the team’s colors – conquered the Euro Cup and broke a list of world records in the process, giving a knocked country's morale a mighty adrenaline boost, even if only momentarily.

It’s as if a giant red brush colored the country, from light posts and balconies, to plastered body paint and shiny lipstick. Spain trounced Italy in the Euro Cup final in Kiev 4-0, with an impressive show of skill and humility.

It’s the first team in history to ever win three consecutive world-class titles, following the Euro Cup in 2008 and the World Cup in 2010. And there is just little room for a reality check, even if it's just a few headlines away: rampant joblessness, a worsening recession, a humiliating European bank bailout of up to 100 billion euro, and utter uncertainty over the future.

For now, Spain has only one voice and it’s all about forgetting about reality to bask in the glory. Television audience broke all records watching their team play. Crowds chanted in Madrid’s streets: “Champions, champions,” or “I am Spanish, Spanish, Spanish!” or “Que Viva España!”

“There is no crisis today,” say Francisco Troncoso, an unemployed construction worker posing for a photograph with his two teenage children and wife while he waited, along with tens of thousands more fans, for Spain’s football team to ride along a victory tour in Madrid ending in the emblematic Cibeles Plaza.

“This pride will last us until the next championship. In fact, with the crisis I hadn’t felt this good since we won the World Cup in 2010,” Mr. Troncoso says. “Thank you, team, thank you for giving us something so good.”

The party began late Sunday after the match ended. Hundreds of thousands of Spaniards flocked to plazas to waive flags, honk horns, and dance. While players and leaders all underlined the importance of the title amid uncertain times, on the street the crisis was on pause.

“They made millions of Spaniards happy and that’s what matters,” said Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, who watched the final in Kiev, as did the heir to the throne Prince Felipe. “We are all humans. We all have problems, but today many people are happy and we have these players and their coach to thank.”

The team arrived Monday and was greeted by King Juan Carlos and some of his grandchildren wearing the team jersey. The celebration will last through the night across Spain.

In the victory tour, pedestrian walkways, sidewalks, and streets were filled with fans enduring a scorching sun. Players waved from a two-story bus, as people sang and waved to their heroes.

“After so much pain, this happiness is a rush,” says Oscar Sanchez, an office worker. “All the bad things are still there, of course, but at least not everything is bleak. Spanish athletes are simply the only trusted institution here because no politician can be trusted.”

“It just helps us forget,” says Ladislao Pejares, an unemployed construction worker.

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