Spaniards danced under a statue of 15th Century explorer Christopher Columbus and sang “Viva Espana!” in downtown Madrid last night in celebration of a 1-0 win over the Netherlands in the World Cup final.
Dressed in the red and yellow of the Spanish flag, thousands of people hugged, shrieked and set off fireworks on the city’s central avenue Paseo de la Castellana. Spain’s victory in Johannesburg ended 76 years of waiting for the country’s first world soccer championship.
“I’m not going to sleep tonight,” Inaki Sebastian, a 27- year-old accountant said, with tears in his eyes as he and his girlfriend watched on television through the window of a café as Spain captain Iker Casillas lifted the gold trophy. “This may not happen again for 40 years.”
Spain adds soccer’s most prestigious prize to other accolades for its athletes including the Wimbledon tennis championship won by Rafael Nadal last week and the Tour de France won by Alberto Contador last July. The national team first participated in the World Cup in 1934.
The government is trying to lift the economy out of a two- year slump, cut the third-largest deficit in the euro region and prop up savings banks. Winning the World Cup could add 0.25 percentage point to annual economic growth, ABN Amro Bank NV economist Hein Schotsman said from Amsterdam last week.
‘Go Out and Spend’
“We’re in an enormous crisis but this is going to make people think differently,” Teresa Morenes, a 62-year-old interior designer, said in Madrid’s Salamanca district. “People will go out and spend this summer.”
Winning the World Cup will “give us confidence,” Spanish Prime Minister Luis Rodriguez Zapatero told the Cadena Ser radio station last night.
Spain’s team landed in Madrid at about 2:40 p.m. today on an Iberia Lineas Aereas de Espana SA plane with “Champions” written in Spanish on the side. The pilots waved Spanish flags out of the cockpit as firemen sprayed water jets in the air.
Dressed in a red t-shirt and tracksuit trousers, Casillas was the first player to step out of the plane. He waved the World Cup trophy in the air and smiled. The team was scheduled to meet Zapatero and King Juan Carlos before parading on an open-top bus in Madrid later today.
Last night, Spaniards watched on screens next to the Columbus statue as the final appeared to be heading for penalties. With four minutes of extra time left, Andres Iniesta volleyed past Dutch goalkeeper Maarten Stekelenburg.
“I thought it was slipping away,” Jorge Rodriguez, a 16- year-old schoolboy who was stripped to the waist and shouting through a traffic cone, said. “Then it all went crazy.”
In Amsterdam, fans wearing the orange of the national team stood dejected amid piles of litter after 125,000 people gathered to watch the match.
“We were going to jump in the canals” if the Netherlands won, Ranj Sherzad said after travelling from Eindhoven to view the game on an outdoor screen in Amsterdam’s Museum Square.
The Netherlands also lost the 1974 and 1978 finals.
“I know I’ll see the Netherlands become champion one day,” Sherzad, 26, said.
Spain won soccer’s 2008 European Championship and six players in its team last night helped Barcelona win the 2009 Champions League, the elite European club competition. Secretary of State for Sports Jaime Lissavetzky said in May that Spain’s athletes have shrugged off self-doubt that had previously affected them.
“We’ve lost the fear of losing,” Lissavetzky said.
Sebastian, the accountant who was wearing a red-and-yellow Spain jersey, said he would head straight to work today without going home after partying all night.
“I’ve got a clean shirt at work,” Sebastian said.