Spanish celebration

Spain celebrates with fireworks

ESPN.com news services

MADRID -- Spaniards blasted off fireworks and jumped for joy after their soccer team won the European Championship on Sunday night, giving the country a burst of national pride and temporary relief from the crushing economic woes that have engulfed the nation.

Tens of thousands gathered in central Madrid to watch their team beat Italy 4-0 and shout out "Gol!" more times than they thought possible. Even better for Spain, the country's team became the first ever to win a Euro, then a World Cup and then another Euro.

Spain needed "this win to counteract the suffering caused by the crisis, which seems endless," a smiling Antonio Ferrillo said in downtown Madrid.

The country has the highest unemployment rate in the 17-nation eurozone, is immersed in a deepening recession and recently asked for a bailout to prop up banks that could go broke after a decade-long property boom crashed.

After the triumph, cars drove by with passengers waving the country's red and yellow flag and yelling "Espana!, Espana!" and "I am Spanish! I am Spanish!"

But the victory gave Spaniards undisputed proof their team is the best in the world, setting off wild celebrations that went past midnight in all corners of the country.

"This is the best thing in the world that could happen," Vanesa Galilea, a 32-year-old civil servant, said as she danced with friends and thousands more in Madrid's central Cibeles square. "This generation of soccer players is incredible."

She added: "Tonight everyone can forget about the crisis, but it won't disappear, unfortunately. Economically this won't change anything but at least we will be happy for a while. Half of Spain won't show up at work tomorrow, that's for sure!"

Daniel Garcia, a 23-year-old university student, said the result made him proud to be Spanish and hopeful that he may find a job amid dire prospects, with one out of every four Spaniards jobless and the unemployment rate hitting 52 percent for people like him who are under age 25.

"It will be difficult, but maybe this will help raise our spirits and get us out of this crisis," Garcia said.

Crowds hugged each other, cried and danced with glee after they watched Spain win on a huge screen erected outside the Santiago Bernabeu stadium, the home of the Real Madrid club team.

"This is very important for Spain and if it brings the risk premium down tomorrow, all the better," Adrian Barajas, a 35-year-old bank clerk, referring to the skyrocketing risk premium level for Spanish government debt that has raised fears the nation may soon need a full-blown public finances bailout like those accepted by Greece, Portugal and Ireland.

Sunday's stunning victory "will raise morale for sure, but for three days, no more," Barajas said. "Spaniards realize this is just soccer."

Crown Prince Felipe called the win a "joy for Spain" and said he hoped Spaniards would "enjoy what they deserve."

"Italy is a very competitive team that never gives up. But when we got the third goal and the Italians had their setback with their injured player, comeback was impossible for them," he told Spain's Telecinco television network after watching the game from the VIP section in Kiev, Ukraine.

Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, who sat near Prince Felipe during the game, said he hoped the victory would give "comfort" to Spaniards who have been enduring waves of painful austerity measures enacted by his administration. The government has raised taxes, made it cheaper for companies to fire workers and reduced funding for the country's cherished national health care and public education systems.

"We're human beings, we have our problems," Rajoy told Telecinco. "Feelings and joy, and everything that comes out of the soul, is beautiful. We have to thank the team and their coaches, they did very well."

In Rome, dejected Italians, knowing Italy didn't have a chance, started streaming out of the Circus Maximus soon after Spain scored its second goal. By the time the fourth goal went in, it was more like an exodus.

Thiago Motta was also carried off on a stretcher with an injury, leaving Italy with 10 men. That was when Alessandro Ciron, a 21-year-old economics student, knew it was all over.

"We had been optimistic," he said as he and his friends left the field set up with giant TV screens where Roman gladiators once fought and headed to a bar for a late night sandwich. "We didn't think we'd lose 4-0."

Many fans simply conceded Spain was the better team, and that the Azzurri had been beset by fatigue and bad luck: Motta's injury and Giorgio Chiellini's earlier injury, apparently to his left hamstring.

"They were stronger," said Lorenzo Del Coiro, a 21-year-old wearing an Azzurri T-shirt and his face painted in the colors of the Italian flag. "We didn't have enough time to recover. And the few chances we had, we couldn't capitalize on them."

The Circus Maximus went nearly silent soon after Fernando Torres scored Spain's third goal in the 84th minute. But even then, Luca Pongetti, a 21-year-old basketball player, continued to wave his Italian flag, proud that the Azzurri had made it to the finals.

"No one expected it, and it's only right to pay homage to these players," he said. But as he spoke, Spain scored its fourth goal. "At the fourth goal, I put the flag away," he said, rolling it up.

Nevertheless, at the end of the game, a great round of applause broke out on the field in appreciation for a tournament final few Italians expected.

Many Spaniards were on the field at Circus Maximus supporting their home team and enduring occasional taunts from the Italian majority. One group of about five danced in the streets as they left the Circus Maximus, and were sprayed with water and pelted with an occasional plastic water bottle by embittered Italians. One was beaten by an Italian wielding a plastic bat, but wasn't seriously injured.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

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