Football fever grips Spain, Netherlands for World Cup final
Spanish and Dutch supporters are gearing up for a huge party as Sunday's World Cup final in Johannesburg finally kicks off. Both teams hope to take football’s ultimate prize home for the first time.
AP - In Paul Vlaar’s rural church, the candles, the piano, even the pastor’s robes were orange for a day.
Vlaar kicked off his sermon to about 300 orange-clad worshippers by praying for Dutch teamwork to lead to victory in the World Cup final against Spain in Johannesburg on Sunday. During the service, Vlaar kicked a football down the aisle and « You’ll never walk alone » was played on the orange piano.
Vlaar’s orange-colored corner of the Netherlands was one small snapshot from a nation gripped by a football frenzy triggered by the country’s first final appearance since losing back-to-back finals in 1974 and ‘78 to hosts West Germany and Argentina.
Vlaar said the football-themed mass was not out of place in his small Roman Catholic church north of Amsterdam.
« All the things come together, » he said. « There was sport, there was faith, there was love. It was top! »
The football fervor was just as strong in Spain, where newspaper ABC featured the country’s flag and just one word on its front page: « Spain! »
Spain, the reigning European champion, is in its first World Cup final. With a lineup of stars from Real Madrid and Barcelona, coach Vicente Del Bosque’s team is favored to win.
Downtown Madrid was festooned with flags and the central Cibeles fountain, often a scene of celebration after Real Madrid wins, was draped in a flag.
A giant TV screen was set up next to Cibeles, facing northwards up the Paseo de la Castellana boulevard where up to 250,000 fans are expected to watch and cheer the match live.
Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero praised the national team in an article in leading newspaper El Pais on Sunday, saying it was an example to the nation of how teamwork can create a positive unity of purpose.
« That’s the Spain we want, a creative Spain, true to itself, innovative and inventive, that speaks to the world with a new language, » Zapatero said. « The team has shown us how to go forward through effort and creativity. »
Eugenia Ribera, 16, who was sporting a Fernando Torres jersey, said she felt proud and anxious.
« This is a day to remember, our team has made us so very proud, » she said. « The whole country has woken up full of expectation. »
Jose Herrero, 18, who was riding a bicycle while wearing a red and yellow Spain jersey, was confident after Spain disposed of Germany in the semifinal.
« We are going to win the World Cup, how amazing. It’s the greatest thing that has happened in my lifetime, » he said.
Rafael Sorian, 24, said he thought Spain would win 2-1.
« If we don’t do it this time, I don’t know when we’ll be able to do it
again at this level, » he said.
The Dutch capital, Amsterdam _ along with cities across the nation _ were being decked in orange. Giant footballs were suspended from orange garlands strung across streets. Orange balloons were strung across the cash registers in the Albert Heijn supermarket on the Koningsplein.
Fans began arriving at a giant screen behind the Van Gogh Museum around noon _ more than eight hours before kickoff in South Africa. In The Hague, bar owners at a central square prepared for their busiest night of the year and fans, one wearing an orange cowboy hat and blowing an orange vuvuzela, milled around.
At a souvenir shop on one of Amsterdam’s canals, store owner John Dewit stocked up on sun glasses with orange frames, orange hats and orange T-shirts.
« They are going like hot bread, » Dewit said. « This is great extra business. »
At the Ovidius coffee shop and bar, barman Mark Heeren had orange fuzz on the cash register.
Heeren said he had mixed feelings about the match. His father is Spanish from the Las Palmas on Grand Canary Island and his mother is Dutch. Both Spanish and Dutch are his native languages, in addition to German and English.
« I don’t know who I’m for, » Heeren said. « If the Netherlands loses, I’ll be happy for Spain. I’m in the middle. »
It was not only the streets that were abuzz with finals fever.
Hup Holland Hup! _ a traditional chant when the national team plays _ was one of the top trending topics on Twitter as fans retweeted « huphollandhup » to bring their team luck.
Back in Obdam, 52-year-old nurse Tinneke Vellird prayed for a little divine intervention.
« Spain is very difficult, they have a good midfield, » she said. « I hope that God will help us to win the game. »