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Spain World Cup fiesta goes wild, boosts unity
The party started when the players’ plane touched down, flying Spanish flags from its cockpit windows, with dozens of airport workers cheering from the runway. It taxied to a stop as cars driving by on nearby highways blared their horns in support.
A roar of approval rose as Casillas stepped from the plane and raised the trophy. The crowd chanted “Campeones! Campeones!” (Champions! Champions!). Then the players in their team jerseys walked from the plane to a waiting Spanish football federation bus without commenting to journalists.
The spectacle was “very important, it helps us forget a lot of things, like the economic crisis, for example, or people’s domestic issues,” said Javier Sanchez, a 42-year-old photographer from Madrid.
But will the ecstasy last? Could this be Spain’s moment to unite under a single flag? Or is it a fleeting instance of patriotism following near economic chaos when the country was targeted as one of the European nations most likely to default on debt like Greece?
Spain has been depressed by a debt crisis, 20 percent unemployment and nationalist regions fighting to separate from the country or at least win much greater autonomy and near-nation status.
While the spotlight was on Madrid, the win led to a rare sight in the Catalonia region’s capital of Barcelona: Spanish flags waving side-by-side with Catalonia’s own red and yellow flag.
“It has been very strange, but now it is being tolerated,” said Saray Lozano, a 31-year-old taxi driver from Barcelona. “If it weren’t for football, you might get rocks thrown at you” for displaying Spain’s national symbol.
About 75,000 people celebrated the win in Barcelona, and about 2,000 people waved Spanish flags and wore the team’s football jersey in the Basque city of Bilbao _ actions rarely seen because of the violent campaign led by the separatist group ETA since 1968 to gain independence from Spain.
Just wearing the jersey on the streets of Bilbao before the win was a sure way to get insulted and risk assault.
But experts said the idea of Spain overcoming its internal divisions and economic woes because of the World Cup is unlikely to become reality. In and around Bilbao, authorities blamed sabotage for an electrical outage that canceled an open air broadcast of the final game, and several people supporting the national team were attacked by separatists.
As for Spain’s fragile economy, the win “may soften the blow of the economic news, but it won’t have a long-lasting effect,” Preston said.
Joan Foguet, a Barcelona-based journalist for the leading Spanish newspaper El Pais, said Catalonia has a “schizophrenic” relationship with the national team _ and attributed the burst of enthusiasm to the fact that the team played well.
NGO worker Elisenda Siguerola felt some people were playing up the Spain unity theme.
“One thing is football and another is politics,” said Siguerola, “even though politicians try to mix the two.”
By Tammy Bruce
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