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Taken by World Cup fever, the Folio magazine of the Neue Zürchner Zeitung commissioned a whole string of authors to elucidate on their respective teams' chances of victory. Read Rodrigo Fresan on Argentina, Joao Ubaldo Ribeiro on Brazil, Andrew Anthony on England, Herve Le Teiller on France and Robert Gernhardt on Germany, Leon de Winter on The Netherlands. More to follow as the championship approaches...

07/06/2006

The Spanish Apocalypse

Spanish writer Guillem Martinez reveals his country's pact with divine providence.

One day, Spain will win some World Cup or another. It will be a memorable day. A day on which a child will also be brought into the world with the number 666 tattooed on its hairy hide – a day of the Apocalypse.

That the world will slip out of joint as soon as a Spanish national player wins something – some say a European championship title or even a tombola prize will be sufficient – was outlined in a pact which divine providence sealed with the first Spaniard on earth. Providence conceded almost every point that every ordinary person would hold as indispensable for founding a nation. Among the concessions made to the Spaniard for his Spain was that the 18th century would more or less be skipped altogether. And then to preclude all eventualities it was furthermore agreed to dispatch Generalissimo Franco in the 20th century and give him 40 years to clear away anything that might have crept in from the days of the Enlightenment. And the contract stipulated that the Bourbons could be hurled off the throne no more than three times and that no republican regime would be in power long enough to make it onto three stamp series. And in return, divine providence ordained that the Spanish football team would experience one fiasco after the next.

And the contract has been strictly observed ever since. Yes, Spain has even diversified in all things fatherlandish. One glimpse at the daily papers will suffice to dispel any doubts that Spanish domestic policy almost exclusively involves arbitrating regional quarrels between factions who all foster their own brand of nationalism. And yet the country still lacks any vestiges of genuine national feeling, such as the sort Uruguay or Paraguay display when proudly refering to their national eleven. Such a thing has never really existed in Spain. Not even in the years between 1939 and 1975, when a successful "seleccion" looked like it might rewrite the history lesson. In the run-up to every World Cup we are informed by the Spanish sports press (another gift of divine providence) that we are the tournament favourites. And the ever-trusting population – simple-mindedness being yet another providential blessing – genuinely believes it. And their faith remains unswerving throughout the group stage when Spain generally waves goodbye – and on into the next World Cup championship when our troupe resurfaces as the favourite once again.

Perhaps this is the reason why Spain has invented two other national teams: FC Barcelona and Real Madrid. Both clubs represent two countries. Real Madrid gathers the fan club of divine providence around itself: a sort of Spanish contemplativeness selection, which is even capable of victory. Barca by comparison is the progressive version. Its fans believe that one day Spain will be able to revise its godly pact. Whenever Real Madrid and Barca meet, it is like a mini World Cup. At least an international game. If your country wins, unlike if the Spanish national team were to win, it doesn't mean the world will go under.

But the day of the Apocalypse will come. Someday. Why not now?

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Guillem Martinez (blog) was born in Barcelona in 1965, where he still lives today. He writes as a columnist for El Pais as well as Interviu and Playboy magazines. He recently published a book "Pasalo" about the reactions to the Madrid bombing in March 2004.

This article forms part of compilation of writings originally published in the Neue Zürchner Zeitung magazine Folio on May 2, 2006.

Translation: lp.

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