La Furia Roja

Spain fans gather to watch the semifinal between Germany and Spain in Toledo - Andrew Green, Creative Commons

Spain is a country divided. Geographically, culturally, and linguistically, Spain has suffered and thrived by these divisions. Catalan, Asturian, Galician and Basque are among Spain’s myriad distinct languages, each tied to distinct cultures, but all part of Spain.

However, this past summer the country was united; by fútbol. The Spanish national football team, known as La Furia Roja in Spain, won the FIFA World Cup for the first time in history. Moises Martinez, who runs the blog Con Ojos Latinos, was in Madrid at the time of the final match and described the scene after Spain’s victory:

Millones se abrazaron, amigos con amigos, novios con novias, desconocidos con desconocidos, no importaba. Muchos jóvenes y viejos cayeron al suelo llorando. No lo podían creer.
“Millions hugged each other, friends hugged friends, boyfriends hugged girlfriends, strangers hugged strangers, it didn’t matter. Young and old alike fell to the ground, crying. They couldn’t belive it.”

The country was ecstatic. But, beyond that, the country was united.

Or, at least, that’s the impression the rest of the world got. But was this an accurate representation of the nation?

Some signs definitely pointed to yes.

Carles Puyol, Andrés Iniesta, and Xabi carry the Catalonian flag, returning from South Africa. - Sportskeeda

Carles Puyol, Andrés Iniesta, and Xabi carry the Catalonian flag, returning from South Africa. - Sportskeeda

Spain’s national team is composed of players from Catalonia,Asturias, Basque Country, Andalusia, Castile and León,the Canary Islands. It can be a little difficult to understand how exactly these partitions work, because they’re not really the same as states in the U.S. These regions are known as autonomous communities, and have unique cultures and centuries-long histories. Thus, the divisions between them are well defined. Xabi Alonso, who plays for Real Madrid, is from Basque country, an autonomous community that has had much strife with the Spanish government in the past. Basque terrorist group ETA is notorious for its relentless use of improvised explosives to demand independence for the Basque country.

Still, the beauty of Spain’s victory in the World Cup, aside from the beautiful soccer they played, lies in the fact that players from all these different regions were able to come together as one cohesive unit. If there was any internal strife or conflict, they didn’t show a hint of it on the field.

I asked my friend Álvaro Guzmán, who writes for The Missourian and is from Pamplona, Spain, about the effect that the team’s performance had on the country.

Durante el mundial, la sociedad española se unió en torno al equipo nacional. Aunque es verdad que hay ciertos sectores que -y están en su perfecto derecho- nunca sentirán a la selección como suya, no es menos cierto que España en su conjunto vibró con el mundial como casi nunca lo había hecho.

“During the World Cup, Spanish society united around the national team. Although it is true that there are certain sectors that -perfectly understandably- will never view the team as theirs, it isn’t any less true that Spain came together for the World Cup like it never had before.”

Este equipo, aparte de hacer un fútbol maravilloso, ha hecho suya a mucha de esa gente por razones que transcienden lo futbolístico. Son gente normal, de todas partes de España (la abundancia de jugadores del Barcelona y de Cataluña, y la presencia de vascos no es baladí) y cuyas personalidades sencillas, sinceras y poco histriónicas han cautivado a toda España.

“This team, aside from playing some wonderful soccer, has appealed to so many people for reasons that transcend the sport. They’re normal people, from all over Spain (the abundance of players from Barcelona and Catalonia, and the presence of Basques shouldn’t be overlooked) whose simple, sincere and not overly dramatic personalities have captivated all of Spain.”

This is the beauty of, if you’ll excuse me, fútbol. It is much more than a sport, as Markus Spier noted in an earlier entry. The simple sport has a unmitigable power unite people, stop wars, and bring joy to people around the world.

I remember going to a local cinema, during the World Cup, that had been showing the games, to watch the United States play Algeria. Most Americans notoriously care very little for fútbol, so I wasn’t expecting much. When I got there, the theater was packed, and the energy was contagious. When Landon Donovan scored the winning goal in stoppage time, the theater erupted.

Donovan’s goal.

Everyone was jumping up and down; hugging each other, and the guy next to me locked me in a compatriotic embrace with such vigor that he knocked over his pint. It was the first time in my life I had been able to feel passionate about the American team, and it was truly a singular feeling.

The country’s reaction.

Watching the video still gives me goosebumps.

If a country that, for the most part, doesn’t care much for fútbol, could be so impassioned by getting into the quarter-finals, it is easy to see how a country that lives and breathes the sport could be united, despite their divisions, by taking home the trophy.