"It can't be, it must be a dream," shouted Enrique, 48, from Madrid, red and yellow scarf wrapped around his head to guard against the biting cold of the Johannesburg winds. "This is our first World Cup and I never thought I would see this day," he added breathlessly to FIFA.com before darting for a corner of Soccer City's hulking frame, frantically dialling family back home in the Spanish capital.
The reigning European champions, so often tearful for the wrong reasons on the world's biggest stage, hoisted their first FIFA World Cup™ in the tribune of honour as the joyful Madrileno plugged an ear and shouted in vain into his mobile phone. Playing in their 13th world finals the Iberians had earned an unwanted reputation as nearly men, always failing to live up to their promise when everything was on the line. So often they choked, so often the occasion and nerves won out.
"Just reaching our first final was a joy, an incredible triumph," shouted Jose, Spanish-born, but living in Venezuela, before racing off to join a phalanx of fellow fans in a festive and fitting song: "Xavi, Iniesta, esto es una fiesta," they howled into the frigid night sky, bouncing up and down on the outskirts of Soweto. "The time was right," added Carlos, 43, living in Dubai and son of a Spanish father. "I think the Dutch are more cursed than Spain, to lose three finals now. You have to feel bad for them. They have great fans, and they had a great tournament. But today was our day."
Spain's joy was indeed Dutch despair. "I've waited 32 years to see my Oranje in the final again," lamented Rob, 43, born in Haarlem on the outskirts of Amsterdam and now living in South Africa's capital. "I dreamt that we would do it today, but again we have to wait." The Netherlands were twice finalists in the 1970s and now, with Spanish dreams realised, must be considered the greatest footballing nation never to have lifted the game's ultimate prize. As the likes of Wesley Sneijder, Arjen Robben and Mark van Bommel laid crumpled on the pitch, tears pouring, the faces up in the crowd mirrored their frustration, and the cruelty of the beautiful game. "Tragic, sad," was all 45-year-old Peter from Utrecht could muster. "This history is hard to deal with."
While the red, white and blue of painted Dutch faces began to run and the hopes of the morning turned to the grim reality of the evening's 1-0 extra-time loss, the Spanish fans could hardly contain their childlike exuberance. For fans so often blasé about their national team, so used to the familiar feeling of underachievement and quarter-final exits, it was all too much to bear."This is it. This is our first ever and I still can't believe it's real," Jose went on, looking down to the pitch as Barcelona man and match-winner Andres Iniesta, Xavi and the rest of Spain's now-legendary side paraded and cradled the elusive trophy. "I think of people in my home. I think of my father and all the times we lost. I don't think I'll ever stop smiling."