World Cup final fever grips Netherlands, Spain

Published Jul. 11, 2010 6:09 p.m. ET

In The Rev. Paul Vlaar's rural church, the candles, the piano, even the pastor's robes were orange for a day.

Vlaar kicked off his sermon to about 300 orange-clad worshippers by praying for Dutch teamwork to lead to victory in the World Cup final against Spain in Johannesburg on Sunday. During the service, Vlaar kicked a football down the aisle and ''You'll never walk alone'' was played on the orange piano.

Vlaar's orange-colored corner of the Netherlands was one small snapshot from a nation gripped by a football frenzy triggered by the country's first final appearance since losing back-to-back finals in 1974 and '78 to hosts West Germany and Argentina.

Vlaar said the football-themed mass was not out of place in his small Roman Catholic church north of Amsterdam.

''All the things come together,'' he said. ''There was sport, there was faith, there was love. It was top!''

In Johannesburg, Crown Prince Willem Alexander, the heir to Dutch throne, said in a television address being broadcast back home that ''the team had entertained us for a month. I hope they can do a little bit more and then we can all have a huge party.''

The football fervor was just as strong in Spain, where newspaper ABC featured the country's flag and just one word on its front page: ''Spain!''


Downtown Madrid was festooned with flags and the central Cibeles fountain, often a scene of celebration after Real Madrid wins, was draped in a flag.

A giant TV screen was set up next to Cibeles, facing northwards up the Paseo de la Castellana boulevard where up to 250,000 fans are expected to watch and cheer the match live.

Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero praised the national team in an article in leading newspaper El Pais on Sunday.

''That's the Spain we want, a creative Spain, true to itself, innovative and inventive, that speaks to the world with a new language,'' Zapatero said. ''The team has shown us how to go forward through effort and creativity.''

Eugenia Ribera, 16, who was sporting a Fernando Torres jersey, said she felt proud and anxious.

''This is a day to remember, our team has made us so very proud,'' she said. ''The whole country has woken up full of expectation.''

Jose Herrero, 18, riding a bicycle while wearing a red and yellow Spain jersey, is confident.

''We are going to win the World Cup, how amazing. It's the greatest thing that has happened in my lifetime,'' he said.

Rafael Sorian, 24, said he thought Spain would win 2-1.

''If we don't do it this time, I don't know when we'll be able to do it again at this level,'' he said.

The Dutch capital, Amsterdam - along with cities across the nation - were decked in orange. Giant footballs were suspended from orange garlands strung across streets. Orange balloons were strung across the cash registers in the Albert Heijn supermarket on the Koningsplein. People in Dutch colors rode in pedal boats on the canals.

Fans began arriving at a giant screen behind the Van Gogh Museum around noon - more than eight hours before kickoff in South Africa. Amsterdam municipality estimated 100,000 fans would crowd into Museum Square to watch the match on a giant screen.

In The Hague, the city's central square bars filled up two hours before kickoff and fans spilled onto the street and crowded around TV screens. Fans wore orange everything: wigs, hats, blazers and trousers. Many blew orange plastic vuvuzelas.

Jesse van Straaten, 31, an office manager, who was wearing orange sunglasses and an orange tie, explained the madness.

''We Dutch are normally very sober and not so outgoing,'' he said. ''For some reason, this is the one thing that can really bring us out and unite us as a country. It's a pity this doesn't happen every two years.''

It was not only the streets that were abuzz with finals fever.

Hup Holland Hup! - a traditional chant when the national team plays - was one of the top trending topics on Twitter as fans retweeted ''huphollandhup'' to bring their team luck.

The festive atmosphere pervaded the whole country.

In the port city of Rotterdam, many of the tens of thousands of people attending the North Sea Jazz festival were dressed in orange shorts, T-shirts and even orange wigs. Some had orange garlands wrapped around their necks.

Two of the country's major cable TV companies said they were working overtime to restore their signal to all households after it was knocked out in several places by thunderstorms Saturday night.

Officials were taking no chance that the euphoria might disintegrate into trouble. In the southern city of Maastricht, officials hired security personnel from Belgium and Germany to control crowds at a giant screen there.

Back in Obdam, 52-year-old nurse Tinneke Vellird prayed for a little divine intervention.

''Spain is very difficult, they have a good midfield,'' she said. ''I hope that God will help us to win the game.''


Associated Press Writers Art Max in Rotterdam, Deborah Seward in Amsterdam and Harold Heckle in Madrid contributed to this report.