MADRID - A wave of joy and pride after
Spain's 1-0 victory over Germany in the World Cup semi-finals on
Wednesday has given the nation some much-needed relief during a
miserable year marked by high unemployment and debt.
Thousands of Spaniards poured onto the streets across the
country late on Wednesday, draped in yellow and red flags, to
celebrate the win that took Spain to their first World Cup final
against Netherlands at Soccer City in South Africa on Sunday.
"We're incredibly proud. This is a welcome distraction from
the crisis and from the awful government we have. It lifts
peoples' spirits," said 63-year-old Loria Alejandrez, a civil
servant who watched the match at a public screening outside Real
Madrid's Bernabeu stadium.
In central Madrid, traffic came to a standstill as fans lay
on pedestrian crossings, clambered over monuments and pretended
to be bullfighters to cars, using Spanish flags as capes. Cars
and buses beeped their horns and fireworks exploded.
Spain, suffering the highest unemployment in Europe and a
debt hangover from a decade-long property boom, has introduced
tough austerity measures including public worker wage cuts in
efforts to stave off a Greek-style debt crisis.
The cool-headed display of teamwork by the Spanish side was
in sharp contrast to the bitter political fighting that has
dogged the weakened Socialist government's attempts to enforce
unpopular reforms under pressure from international markets.
"We need something to show we can do things together instead
of bickering all the time," said Pedro Schwartz, economist at
San Pablo University in Madrid.
The match was screened on 14 million Spanish television sets
and captured over 80 percent of the television audience on
Wednesday night, a media consultancy said.
Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero said he had
watched the match nervously with his wife and daughters and the
players had brought Spain great happiness in a difficult time.
"Our moment has come in football and I think this comes at a
good time to lift the confidence and self-esteem of the
country," he said in a radio interview.
Confidence in Spain from financial markets has wilted in
recent months, driving up the government's cost of borrowing.
The fact the player who headed the winning goal, central
defender Carles Puyol, is from the north-eastern region of
Catalonia, gave an extra boost to feelings of Spanish unity.
The Catalans speak their own language and are seeking more
political independence from Madrid.
Spain is enjoying success in the world of sport, with a
Wimbledon victory for Rafael Nadal this year and Spanish
basketball player Pau Gasol helping the Los Angeles Lakers win
their second successive NBA championship.
However, the grim reality of 20 percent unemployment and
some of the highest personal debt levels in Europe coupled with
the prospect of cuts in wages and benefits kept heads level at a
Madrid job centre.
"It's a case of bread and circuses. When things were going
badly in Rome, they put on a circus with free food to make
people happy and to appease riots," said Julio Ramirez, a
34-year-old unemployed English teacher in the queue at the
centre. "That's how I see the football."
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