Raphael Minder & Elisabetta Povoledo
Tens of thousands of people turned downtown Madrid into a sea of red late Sunday night,flooding the thoroughfares and taking over the main fountain square of the Spanish capital after the national soccer team won another European championship.
The street partying in Madrid was repeated across Spain,with flag-waving and chanting fans filling city squares while caravans of honking car drivers set off even before Spain had won.
The success of La Roja,or the Red,as Spains team is known,hasat least momentarilyhelped overshadow the countrys deepening recession and banking crisis,which forced the Spanish government to request a European bailout of up to 100 billion euros (about $125 billion),to shore up its troubled banks. With almost a quarter of Spains workforce unemployed,many people here have appeared to be drowning their economic sorrows in La Rojas victories.
This team cannot make the crisis go away,but its managed to provide a level of joy and inspiration that goes well beyond what sports can produce in normal times, said Javier Morales,a doctor. Talk at the hospital has been about health care cuts,so Im really looking forward to having something much happier to discuss.
Miguel Blanco,an 18-year-old student,said: The crisis has made Spain look like a hopeless country,when,in fact,were showing tonight that were the best in Europe.
Politicians have also jumped on the soccer bandwagon,led by Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy,who was in the stadium in Kiev on Sunday,alongside Prince Felipe of Asturias,heir to the Spanish throne,and Mario Monti,Italys prime minister. Rajoy attended Spains opening match of the tournament three weeks ago in Polanda day after requesting the European bailoutjustifying his trip by declaring the banking crisis resolved.
But many people in Madrid seemed unhappy about allowing Rajoy to bask in La Rojas accomplishment. Rajoy knows how to enjoy soccer,but not how to resolve a crisis, said David Hernandez Herrero,a 42-year-old health care worker. Everybody knows that were going to come back to earth with a thump because Rajoy has a lot more cuts and hardship in store for us.
La Rojas victory amounted to an unprecedented third consecutive soccer title,after the European championship in Vienna in 2008 and the World Cup in Johannesburg in 2010. This latest success witnessed unparalleled passion. More than 18 million TV viewers followed the penalty shootout against Portugal last week,setting a new TV audience record for any show.
In Rome,those who had gathered in the Campo de Fiori to watch the game straggled desolately out of bars and restaurants afterward. Were sad but not upset,because Italy played a great European championship and no one expected theyd get so far,and play with so much heart, said Luca Reho,a restauranteur.
I thought that after we beat Germany we would go the distance,but Spain deserved to win, said David Piperno,a tobacco shop owner from Rome. This time it went like this,but well get them at the World Cup.
Speaking on state broadcaster RAI after the game,Prime Minister Monti said that he had told the players after the game: Guys,you made us dream; tonight we woke up. All Italians,he said,were grateful to the team,who did something extraordinary.
Seeming to address the larger problems facing the country,whichlike Spainhas been under pressure in the global financial markets in recent weeks,Monti said that Italians were able to overcome moments of difficulty,when they work together.
Still,even some disappointed Italian residents of Madrid were willing to recognise the psychological importance of such a victory for recession-suffering Spaniards. I feel sad,but its true that soccer has turned into the opium of the people here, said Alessia DellAcqua,an Italian interior designer. Its almost the only source of satisfaction that Spaniards have left,and I cant imagine what the atmosphere would have been like at work this coming week if La Roja had lost.