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Furor over Spain's win bonuses dies down after final warmup win

Two things happened this past Tuesday in Spain. One turned out to be a bit of flop when it had promised to be massive, the other turned out to be a rip-roaring success just when everyone was predicting a disaster. One particularly emotive, manipulated and sensitive issue briefly brought the two events together but the true moral outcry that some sought never quite materialized. And in the end, that seemed the most eloquent comment of them all.

A general strike was called by public sector workers in protest at 5 percent pay cuts imposed by the government's austerity measures, with employees all over the country called upon to back the strike. And the Spanish national team played its last warm-up game before heading off to the World Cup in South Africa -- against Poland in Murcia.

At the front of the newspapers, some said that the strike would bring the country to a standstill. With unemployment running at almost 20 percent and the country in crisis, it threatened to be a huge protest. There were even those that predicted Spain heading down the same road as Greece, economically and socially -- there would be riots and police charges and destruction, everything would grind to a violent halt.

At the back, in the sports pages, they feared the worse. Everywhere, players were pulling out of the World Cup injured. What if a Spaniard was next? Was it really worth risking it? And what were they doing playing in Murcia, for goodness sake? At 10 at night, hundreds of kilometers from Madrid, from where they would travel to Johannesburg, and in temperatures well into the 30s ... what was the point?

Things, though, didn't go quite as everyone feared. Or hoped. The strike was a failure. According to government figures, less than 12 percent of public sector workers joined in; even union leaders admitted that they did not get the reaction they had expected. Virtually no one from other sectors backed it. In Madrid, there was no sea of Sindicalistas to speak of, no mass protests.

In Murcia, apart from the worryingly fragile Andres Iniesta making way after just 38 minutes, there were no mass injuries. Better still, Iniesta is expected to make it for the opening game of the World Cup after all, Fernando Torres returned at last and scored within 10 minutes of coming on, and Spain was simply sensational -- hammering Poland 6-0. Its second goal, in particular, was so good it was silly. A Playstation play.

The reaction to both events made a point. In the end, it seemed that the Spanish cared more about the six strikes in Murcia -- one each for David Silva, Xabi Alonso, Cesc Fabregas, Torres and Pedro, plus an own-goal from Dariusz Dudka -- than the many strikes going on elsewhere. The soccer had overshadowed the protest, just when some thought it might enhance it.

Earlier this week, it emerged that Spain's players have been offered a $725,000 bonus each for winning the World Cup. It is the biggest win-bonus of any of the teams at the World Cup. And some were up in arms about it. Joan Herrera, an MP, even demanded that the government place limits on the size of bonuses for the Spanish national team.

Many asked the simple question: how dare they be offered such huge bonuses when the country is in crisis?

It was, they said, crass, insensitive, and insulting. How could young millionaires with no awareness of the real world be offered even more cash for playing football? How could they be offered that now? While unemployment rockets, crisis grips and public sectors workers take a pay cut and take to the streets?

Shouldn't they be setting an example? Shouldn't they be respectful towards a country they represent? It was an outrage.

Iker Casillas was forced to come out and defend the bonus, adding: "I have close friends and family effected by the crisis too." Vicente del Bosque, meanwhile, insisted that he didn't even know what he earns. "Like most men," he said, "it's my wife that handles all the accounts and stuff."

But if anyone should be setting an example, is it really footballers? What about the bankers and financiers? What about the construction industry? Or the politicians? Or the entire economic model, the system?

According to that very model, Spain's Football Federation (RFEF) is a private company -- albeit one that gets a state subvention to the tune of around 4% of its budget -- and can therefore do whatever it likes.

Spain were playing in Murcia -- a truly ludicrous location for their final warm-up game - for one simple reason: their presence there earned the RFEF, $1.2 million from its principal sponsor the electricity company Iberdrola.

It was the players that had to put up with terrible conditions, arriving back in Madrid, exhausted, in the small hours of the morning, and seeing their preparation truncated -- seeing their one day-off before the finals all but destroyed.

It was Del Bosque, Casillas and Iniesta who had to make a 200km round-trip in a three hours, arriving late to their own training session and to a team meal the day before the game -- to attend an event held by the same sponsors that enabled the RFEF to make that $1.2 million. Del Bosque had wanted the final game to be played in Madrid, to avoid unnecessary travelling. He had asked the game to be played at 8.30 like the World Cup matches. He was ignored because that was less lucrative.

So, why shouldn't those inconvenienced by financial imposition share in the profits they generate? Similarly, if Spain win the World Cup, won't the $16.6 million total paid out in bonuses merely be a reflection of what they generate? Might that not be the best boost the economy could ask for? Maybe, maybe not.

Besides, if it was an outrage, few in Murcia seemed particularly outraged. In truth, nor, despite the white noise and the fuss, did many others, beyond the opportunists. On Tuesday night, 10 million people watched the Spain game and the area stadium was packed from hours beforehand, filling bars and restaurants. Far fewer took any notice of the strike; they cared more about the match than the mess.

Tuesday brought a little happiness. Winning the World Cup would bring even more - and God knows Spain could do with that right now. Bonuses will not make Spain win the World Cup. But if they do win the tournament, no one will care about the money being paid out.

They'll be far too busy out celebrating.