THE HALF DECENT FOOTBALL MAGAZINE

Italy v Spain, July 1, 7.45pm

icon spain30 June ~ Spain isn't really a happy place to be at the moment and not even an appearance in another final for La Seleccíon can do anything to change that. Although players such as Iker Casillas have claimed that winning is an addiction, it doesn't seem to be the case for the fans. Victory at Euro 2008 brought a mixture of joy and relief for the people of Spain. Their national side had finally delivered on its promise after so many years of failure. What's more, they did it in some style. 

The World Cup triumph in South Africa was an historic moment that produced a truly spine-tingling atmosphere that temporarily united what is still a fairly divided nation. Euro 2012 has been considerably less pleasurable for fans of La Roja. The pressure of maintaining their position at the top of the world's football tree is not as fun as getting there. The team's performances, although competent and professional, have lost that spark.

Previously loyal supporters are beginning to wonder if the rest of the world has a point about Spain being a bit boring. Aside from the Ireland match, the talk in the bars, cafes and markets has been about "job done" rather than any jubilation over the football. 

For the first time, people have dared to question Vicente Del Bosque and his supposedly conservative tactics, before a backlash against the backlash began when the normally reticent coach noted archly that people had forgotten how bad things were for Spain in the very recent past.

Contributing to Spain's rather maudlin mood is the news of the banking bailout, coming at the beginning of the tournament. The country is admitting self-induced catastrophic failures, handing out a begging bowl to the rest of Europe, and it does not feel good. When the football team is not working properly, there is not a lot left to cheer. 

Tomorrow's final is more than just Spain attempting to win three tournaments in a row or trying to beat Italy properly once and for all. Any kind of victory would be duly celebrated and enjoyed, even if the euphoria would be short-lived in comparison to triumphs at previous tournaments.

“We know this is just a smokescreen,” said one shop owner this week, discussing the country's economic troubles. But a defeat is truly unthinkable for Spanish fans. With the 25 per cent unemployment rate, 50 per cent youth unemployment, the country's last source of pride would have been lost, especially after Rafa Nadal's premature Wimbledon exit. On Monday morning, the feeling would be that the dark days might only just be beginning. Tim Stannard

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