By Sid Lowe
July 08, 2010

The most famous fiesta of the lot became the greatest fiesta of all. Every year on July 7, a firework launched into the sky in Pamplona sparks the biggest party of the year, made so famous by Hemmingway -- the legendary San Fermín, the running of bulls, drinking of Patxarran, and sleeping off of hangovers in parks. This July 7, a long-haired Carles Puyol, Spain's very own Captain Caveman, launched through the sky to spark the biggest celebrations ever, smashing in the header that beat Germany 1-0 and sent Spain to a first World Cup final.

It wasn't the most typically Spanish of Spanish goals. This, after all, is a national team that prides itself on its neat, tiki-taka style, killing its opponents softly, picking them apart bit by bit. Instead, it was a throwback to the days when Spain were known as the Furia Roja -- The Red Fury, a nickname they picked up after a robust appearance at the 1920 Antwerp Olympics. It was all power, an unstoppable force, hair flying everywhere, a head like Medusa's, or like Paul the Octopus' tentacles, the ball rocketing into the net. Puyol was, said the sports daily AS, "like a rugged bull." Truly, San Fermín was under way.

The dogmatic obsession with tiki-taka, from both sides, has always been a bit of a myth and even if the goal wasn't typically Spanish, the performance was. Besides, if the path they chose does matter Thursday morning -- and it really does; there is a satisfaction about the way Spain play not just the results it has achieved, AS describing its play as a "silk revolution" -- what matters most is where it is: the World Cup final.

Let's say that again, because as fans spilled onto streets all over the country Wednesday night, beeping horns, singing and doing bullfighting passes with Spain flags, there was still a sense of disbelief. They all saw it.

Well, almost all of them did. The game boasted the highest television viewing figures ever, with an 88 percent audience share, something that really only prompts one question: what the bloody hell were the other 12 percent up too?! But still, while it unfolded before their eyes, while they listened to their commentators screech and cry, while they nurse hangovers this morning, there is still an almost unreal feeling to it all. A need to confirm it really happened.

It did.

What mad columnist Tomás Roncero, whose by-line photo shows him with his face painted, a Spain flag hanging out his mouth and a V for Victory sign on his fingers, describes as "our punished minds, so poorly educated in success" have finally been educated.

Spain is in the World Cup final. For the first time ever. Hell, it hadn't even got beyond a semifinal before. Better still, few doubt that Spain will beat Holland on Sunday. Spain has, screeches the cover of Marca, proven that it is "the best in the world." As usual, alongside the headline are some brackets, between which it says: "and on Sunday, they'll be world champions." But even if it isn't, Spain has already claimed a piece of history. "Even if you are 100 years old you have never seen anything like this, says Marca: "!!!Spain in the final of a World Cup!!!"

It's a message related everywhere with a mix of disbelief and unrestrained joy -- a joy that prompts Roncero to send a love letter to Iker Casillas. No, really. "I love you, Iker", he writes, a sweet, Iker-perfumed silk hankie in one hand, a tear gently travelling down his cheek, a photo of Casillas on the desk before him. "My name is Tomás not Sara [Carbonero] but I feel obliged to write this letter to you, the amulet that will take us to the summit of the world. Wherever your heart is, we will be there."

Every newspaper is, inevitably, splashed with Spain this morning. Público has made its entire cover red, a huge yellow "SÍ" in the middle of it. Other headlines declare "Viva the mother that gave birth to you!" or worship San Fermín! "Finalists!" shout Sport, "To the final," reply El Mundo Deportivo.

Even those two bastions of the right-left divide El País and El Mundo Deportivo agree for once. "The best Spain," says El Mundo; "the best Spain, into the final," says El País.

It is the Promised Land. "From Puyol, straight to heaven", declares Marca.

"To infinity, and beyond!" "This goal dropped from heaven," according to Público." El Mundo describes it as a ticket to eternity. When they get there, AS reckons there will something familiar about the game they're playing beyond the pearly gates. "I am sure," says the paper's editor Alfredo Relaño, "that this is how they play football in paradise." Never mind paradise, Spain will settle for them playing like that in Johannesburg on Sunday night.

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