BILBAO - Spain's success in
the World Cup has highlighted the kind of deep political
divisions which mean that some Spanish residents will be
cheering on Netherlands in Sunday's final.
The team's unprecedented performance has prompted the
unveiling of Spanish flags on balconies in areas where
nationalist flags would be more typical, irritating separatists
in the northern Basque and Catalan regions.
"If it were up to me, I'd have Netherlands beat Spain 30-0,"
said Inaki Atxutegi, a 40-year-old economist from the Basque
port of Bilbao.
The Basque and Catalan regions have different languages and
cultural identities and many of their residents want greater, if
not full, autonomy from Madrid.
"(Madrid politicians) are using the success of the Spanish
team, made up almost entirely of Catalans and Basques, to sell a
concept of Spain that many Basques do not share," Atxutegi said.
Football achievement has also clashed with a controversial
ruling by the Constitutional Court on a statute setting out the
limits of Catalan autonomy from Madrid.
The court concluded that Catalonia could not be recognised
as a separate nation, and hundreds of thousands are expected to
join a protest in Barcelona on Saturday.
"There will end up being more Spanish flags because of the
Spain-Netherlands match on Sunday than Catalan flags because of
Saturday's protest," complained the deputy head of Catalonia's
regional government, Josep Lluis Carod-Rovira, in a blog.
Spain coach Vicente del Bosque told a news conference in
Johannesburg on Saturday he hoped the harmonious relationship
between his players and their emphasis on teamwork would inspire
similar feelings back home.
"I hope that we'll look at things in a less radical way and
through football create better relations among the regions in
our country," said the 59-year-old, who is from Salamanca.
Midfielder Xavi, who plays for Barcelona, added:
"There are many players from the Barca team and that, of
course, makes me very proud.
"But it's not only about Barca. We want everyone to feel
very proud in the whole of Spain, not only in Catalonia, about
the football we are playing."
Even showing Spain's games on public screens is proving
The city of Barcelona, the capital of Catalonia, had up to
now declined to show Spain's games on public screens, despite
the fact that seven players in the starting 11 for the
semi-final against Germany last Wednesday play for Barcelona.
On Sunday, however, it will show the final on a public
screen in the city, something greeted as a victory in itself by
right-wing Spanish media commentators in Madrid.
But some are resentful that the Catalan national team are
not able to compete in top international tournaments, especially
since Carles Puyol's match-winning header against Germany was
the result of a move worked out on the training ground at
Barcelona, according to the defender.
Neither world football's governing body FIFA nor its European
equivalent UEFA recognise the Catalan team which typically plays
a friendly against an international side in December each year.
"I don't feel Spanish at all, I can't help that," said Marc
Morell, 46, from the Catalan city of Tarragona.
"But Puyol and the rest would rather play for a Catalan
national team, if only we were allowed to create one. They only
play for Spain because they have no choice."
Still for some, like Aitor Zuazua, a 32-year-old stockbroker
from the Basque town of Getxo, football and politics do not mix.
"I'd never put a (Spanish) red shirt on but I still want
Spain to win," he said.
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