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`Red fever` grips Spain ahead of World Cup final

Sports Desk |
Update: 2010-07-10 21:44:15

MADRID: Spain was awash with the red and gold national colours and exhuberant fans were gathering in blistering heat in outdoor "fan parks" as the country geared up for its first ever appearance in a World Cup final Sunday.

"The day of our dreams has arrived," said the sports newspaper Marca.

"You can do it!" headlined another sports daily, AS, over a picture of the team.

"Espana!" was the one-word headline in the Madrid daily ABC over a picture of the Spanish flag that covered both the front and back pages.

Police closed a one-kilometre (half-mile) stretch of Madrid`s main avenue, the Paseo de Castellana, where three massive screens, one of them 60 square metres (650 square feet), were set up to broadcast the match.

Some 150,000 supporters of "La Roja" (The Reds) were expected at the fan park in the capital for a fiesta that, whatever the result, was expected to last all night.

Others were gathering in bars or at home for the match, which was expected to leave the country paralysed from the kickoff at 8:30pm (1830GMT).

Thousands of fans poured into the capital from other parts of the country to soak up the atmosphere, many of them travelling all night and planning to leave the next morning after a night of revelry.

There was soaring confidence that the World Cup`s perennial underachievers could beat the Netherlands and finally take the title that has eluded them for so long.

"Spain will win 2-0, with (David) Villa and Pedro (Rodriguez) scoring," said Oscar, 21, who had travelled from a village in the southeastern region of Murcia for the match with four friends.

"We won`t sleep tonight," he said, as the five fans sat drinking beer on the grass on the Paseo de Castellano next to a huge Spanish flag with the words "Podemos!" ("We can") and "Viva Espana!" written on it.

Stephane and Luca Diaz, two brothers whose father is Spanish, drove overnight from their home in the northwestern French town of Le Mans along with two friends to watch the match in Madrid.

"We`re here for the atmosphere," said Stephane, 27. "We said if Spain reached the final we would come to Madrid to support them."

Spain`s main manufacturer of the national flag said he has sold some 50,000 since the start of the World Cup, compared to around 12,000 he would expect to sell normally.

The red and gold colours were draped over the city`s Cibeles and Neptune fountains, where fans of Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid respectively celebrate their victories.

Fans wrapped themselves in the flag or wore red wigs and the team shirts or painted their faces in the red and gold colours, as the sounds of klaxons and drum beats blared out.

And along with the high spirits were high temperatures, which soared to 37 C (99 F).

Almost all towns and cities throughout the country installed giant screens for people to watch the match.

Even in Catalonia, a region with its own distinct culture and language and which has traditionally been disdainful of the Spanish national team, there was growing enthusiasm.

Authorities in the Catalan capital of Barcelona set up a giant outdoor screen for the final for the first time during the tournament, with some 50,000 people expected at the fan park.

In the northeastern town of Pamplona, the fervour over this week`s annual San Fermin festival, which includes "running of the bulls", was mixed with excitement at the World Cup final.

Even if Spain loses, the players will be feted in a parade in an open-top bus that will pass through the city centre on Monday evening, ahead of a reception by Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero.

In an interview with Marca, Zapatero said he had "full confidence" in the Spanish team "which symbolises the plurality" of the country.

BDST: 1904hrs, July 11, 2010

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