Thursday, June 15, 2006

Spain 4 - 0 Ukraine

Spain shows its teeth; Spain starts with its best ever World Cup debut; Spain is the best!; Spain shines; Team glory sets off expressions of Patriotism in Spain!.......the headlines say it all.

However what the headlines fail to convey is the sheer sense of elated shock on the streets of Madrid. Nobody ever expected such a performance by the Spanish selection, not even in their wildest dreams. People are so used to criticising and mocking the national side that I honestly think that many do not really know how to react or feel. On the very mention of the game people just smile bemusedly as they are not very familiar with the concept of “World Cup elation”.

Aside from the meaning of the victory itself and the spectacular fashion in which they went about it, for me the most significant aspect is that for the first time in many years the Spanish team will be supported in the World Cup from the very outset. To be honest, it is almost unheard of that the Iberians should have so much public endorsement before they even graduate from the initial group phase. In fact sadly it is normally the case that the team only manages to catch the imagination of their fellow citizens just in time for their last inglorious game when they bow out of the competition.

Nevertheless, to my great surprise the celebrations and charged patriotism are revealing something of Spanish society that I would not have expected to find in the sporting sphere. I am shocked to see people who I know to be football fanatics shiver at the sight of the Spanish flag. I now realise that some Spaniards are finding it genuinely difficult to enter into the spirit of the flag and become enthusiastic about their nation triumphing over another. It seems to make them nervous. Obviously the propaganda-ridden dictatorship past is still very real in the minds of many and it is something that they find hard to bury, even if it is only for a game of footy. There is evidently an element of the public who worry that this success will only foster the country’s latent nationalism.

As can only be expected of course, the politicians were only ready to wax lyrical about the sudden glory while at the same time using it as a metaphor for whatever it is they stand for, be it socialism, nationalism, regionalism or even Catholicism. The ever more right leaning Popular party spoke of “the legitimate pride of the oldest nation in Europe” while the pro Catalan autonomy stance of the governing socialists shone through with the “triumph of a pluralist Spain in which diversity makes us stronger”.

Among the 43, 000 spectators was Spanish Crown Prince Philippe who annoyed me no end with his dead composure until the last fantastic goal, when he dropped his royal guard and showed that there was actually something remotely human about this Bourbon heir. Meanwhile his new wife, who was not of Aristocracy born and who obviously failed to convince her hubby to ditch the tie, struggled to maintain the composure expected of her adopted status. Not bad for a beginner all the same.

Nonetheless, royalty or plebiscite, all are hoping for more of that “Swiss watch precision” in the game against Tunisia on Monday next.

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