National pride is something inside of every one of us. You can't help but kiss the flag/badge/banner when you see your country do something worthy of praise, and none more so in sports. Even if it makes you suffer more than actually enjoy whatever it is you're watching, you become completely overwhelmed in the moment, and even though there can be only 1 winner (excluding some American sports, which seem to have everyone's a winner) then it doesn't matter.
Football always throws up the inevitable mis-matches and rivals. Being English, we have the teams we love to hate. Our eternal enemies the Germans, and more recently the Portuguese. Not being present at this year's Euro 2008 competition in Austria and Switzerland has left us English fans without a real following. It's such a shame that England didn't qualify, as the tournament has been the best Euro competition I can remember - even better than Euro 96, and that was so special as it was in England.
Before this competition started, I said the Germans would win it. I was very impressed in the 2006 world cup, and although they had parted company with Klinsmann, I still felt that it was going to be their year. I was very happy to see Portugal take an early exit out of a side door, and also Italy, who are just too false with their diving (sorry for any Italians, but you know I'm right - nothing against you as a nation!).
I am now having to re-consider my pre-tournament bet. By far the best team of the competition so far (after the sharp exit of Holland) have been the Spanish. The have beaten the demons which haunt the typical English team and managed to get to the final, and many believe that this will be their year. It doesn't matter that their star striker David Villa won't be playing through injury - his substitute in Fabregas was a wonder when he came on last game.
What I find funny (and very hypocritical) is that if you asked the average Barcelonan before the competition started about Spain's chances, your reply would have been something along the lines of "Not bothered. I'm not Spanish. I hope they go out in the first round". Catalan nationalism is very fierce beast. If you visit Barcelona you will see many graffitis, stickers, posters and even shop fronts telling you that "Catalonia is not Spain". And they want you to know about it. Much of the TV coverage has shown many a Spanish flag with the ever present image of the big black bull - surely a Spanish institution, and an image all of us would associate with Spain. Well, not the Catalans - they have even gone as far as to create their own national (though unofficial) animal - poking fun at the "Toro Bravo" - a donkey. The Catalan "ass" can be seen as bumper stickers on every car, motorbike, scooter and bike crossing the city of Barcelona, and beyond.
You might be surprised to hear that Catalonia has it's own national football team, and Puyol is captain, Xavi and Fabregas also appear. How can this be possible you ask? you can't play for 2 nations? Well, that's just because they want to, and that's that. That's what the Catalans do. So even though the current squad has a fair few sprinklings of Catalan talent, your average Catalan will tell you they're not bothered. As I say, that's what they'll TELL you.
I have never seen such scenes of happiness and joy after Spain’s defeat of Russia in the Semi final the other day!! Las Ramblas was chocka-block with flags and fans and all of a sudden we were in Spain and not Catalunya. It did make me smile. We're not Spanish at all, unless we're doing well at something. Rafa Nadal the successful Spanish tennis player is actually Catalan, but he represents Spain (his surname means Christmas in Catalan), as did another Catalan, Aranxa Sanchez Vicario.
We'll see how many Catalans will have a sly eye on tonight's final, and be cheering if Spain win, and jeering if they lose to Germany. It's a win-win situation for them!
As for me, as an Englishman I never thought id think I'd be rooting for a German team! They were my pre-tournament bet, so I should stick to my guns. For the hypocritical nature of my hosts, I'd like to see them lose, but I think Spain deserve to win - Germany were a shadow of the team we all know when they played against Turkey, so I'm kind of in doubt. I just hope it's a great final with lots of goals.
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