July 12, 2010 4:38 pm

Madrid fetes Spain’s World Cup winners

Spain’s triumphant World Cup football team returned home to a heroes’ welcome in Madrid on Monday, amid optimistic predictions that their victory over the Netherlands would boost economic growth and strengthen national unity.

Iker Casillas, the captain and goalkeeper, raised the cup high as he emerged from the aircraft carrying the team from their 1-0 win on Sunday in South Africa.

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The players are due to have an audience with King Juan Carlos before a meeting with José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, the Socialist prime minister, a politician normally in tune with public opinion who was inexplicably absent from the final in Johannesburg. The King could not attend for medical reasons.

Spanish revellers drank, sang and shouted “We are the champions!” in cities across the country until the early hours of Monday morning after Spain’s first victory in the history of the World Cup.

Another party is expected on Monday night in central Madrid after the players have toured the capital in an open-top bus.

Some Spanish commentators gleefully quoted an analysis from ABN Amro, the Dutch bank, concluding that a country could benefit from several tenths of a percentage point of additional economic growth as a result of winning the World Cup, while the losing finalist tended to suffer lower growth.

Miguel Sebastián, industry minister, said before the match that a victory would not only help consumer confidence but improve Spain’s image abroad. Spain, he said, “will be able to boost the presence of its products and services in other countries, such as China, that love our team”.

Regardless of the short-term economic impact, Spanish politicians are hoping that the team’s victory will help to unify the country’s sometimes fractious autonomous regions, particularly the Basque country and Catalonia, behind the Spanish flag.

It will help that eight members of the winning Spanish team either play for Barcelona, the main city and football team in Catalonia, or are themselves Catalans. Spain won the World Cup the day after one of the biggest demonstrations in Barcelona’s history, a protest against a court ruling limiting the region’s autonomous ambitions.

El Mundo, the right-wing newspaper, published an editorial on Monday entitled “Spain, united thanks to its champions”.

It noted the gravity of the economic crisis and the tensions between regions and said: “In these circumstances, it was vital for Spain to strengthen its self-esteem and to be able to air without prejudice national symbols that had long been kept in the wardrobe.”

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