The pain in Spain was an unexpected result
The last time I'd watched Spain play, it was the World Cup final in 2010. They were pitched against the Netherlands, the whole world was watching and I just so happened to be in the Spanish island of Lanzarote on holiday at the time.
To say the atmosphere was electric would be an understatement. As the national anthem was played the entire island sang along.
Cantemos todos juntos
con distinta voz
y un solo corazon!”
Don’t ask me what it means, but even I stood reverently to attention, getting caught up in the hysteria with all the locals who had crammed into our hotel foyer like sardines on a Costa Brava BBQ.
And then, after what seemed like hours of unbridled shouting, a goal was finally scored and all hispanic Hell broke loose.
“¡Championes!Championes! Olé, Olé, Oleeeeeeeeeeé!”
I’d often heard that sung in England, Ulster, Ireland ... anywhere, in fact, where any kind of team is triumphant. But for the first time ever, it really did mean something here.
That was four years ago and they were still cheering it last Friday night as the reigning champions kicked off at the beginning of World Cup 2014.
Coincidentally, I happened to be on a Spanish island again (this time in Ibiza — the quiet side of the island — where I was staying with a friend) and coincidentally, it was Spain v Netherlands again.
Even I, with my limited knowledge of international football, knew that this was a hugely significant fixture. Spain had to show they were still worthy of the title. Holland, on the other hand, had a very sore score to settle.
You didn't have to be Gary Neville to know it was a grudge match of global proportions. So I did what any interested international observer would do and made for the local bar to watch the drama unfold.
The place itself was perfect. Open air on the village square ... the golden sun setting into the sea behind us (“Scorchio!”) ... a gigantic flatscreen TV above us and a jangling jug of icy sangria on the table next to our smouldering cigarillos.
Naturally, being Spain, the place was crawling with Spaniards. And once again the atmosphere was electric. The vuvuzelas of South Africa '10 had been replaced by plastic “trompetta” horns which the bar staff were handing out free to customers with every drink so as you can imagine it was very noisy.
Some revellers were doing the macarena; others were clapping their hands and stamping their feet like matadors and almost everyone was decked head to foot in the national shade of red.
As Spanish flags flapped aloft from every elevation in the balmy Mediterranean breeze, the starting whistle blew.
Within minutes all Hispanic hell broke loose once more as the first goal went in. Fireworks went off! I kid you not! Someone had them primed and ready to go off in the street as each goal was scored. There appeared to be a big pile of them too. How's that for presumptuous?
But then something very unexpected happened. Netherlands scored an equaliser and, as if from nowhere, two blonde blokes dressed in orange Holland shirts jumped up and started dancing like eejits in front of the now silent Spanish fans.
“Neddd! Errr! Lannds!” they shouted as they did what looked like a clog dance in celebration. Talk about Dutch courage!
After taking a moment to recover from the shock, one of the locals jumped up and gave them a benevolent slap on the back, a few trompetta sounded a battle cry and the party atmosphere continued.
And once again play resumed.
The second Holland goal and subsequent celebratory cheering wasn't greeted with quite such bonhomie. This time they were in the lead and things weren't looking quite so cut and dried.
A few of the locals wandered off and the trompetta remained on the tables conspicuously silent.
The third Holland goal went in and this time the Dutch fans simply smiled and slapped each other on the back, but instinctively knew not to do their triumphant lap of honour around the front of the bar. Even now, after a few locals had skulked off in disgust, they were still outnumbered fifty to one.
And so it continued.
At 4:1 half the bar downed their Stellas and made off into the night, crest-fallen.
At 5:1? They thought it was all over? It was now. Our friends from the Netherlands let out a moderate cheer as the final whistle blew but there were no Spaniards left to see them off. The place had emptied and I was half expecting to see tumbleweed blowing across the town square. The only locals remaining were the bar staff.
“Not so good!” I said sympathetically to the waiter. He shrugged, in that nonchalant way the Spanish do.
“Ah si, but we lost the first game in 2010,” he said, “and still we became ze championes!”
Ole to eternal optimism!
And may the best team win.
Belfast Telegraph Digital