Trecker’s Travels: Spanish football takes spotlight in Lisbon

May 24th, 2014

LISBON —

The winds have been blowing hard into Lisbon this week, whipping off the river Tagus and through the winding alleys of Chiado. It’s added a wrinkle to Saturday’s big match as the memories of the last big blow through here remains fresh.

This February, big hunks of the roof of the Estadio da Luz plummeted to the turf before the Lisbon derby, glass and padding shattering on the surface below. Portugal was lucky: the incident happened in advance of the game, so no one was hurt, but the debris continued to cascade down, causing some angst among UEFA officials. Happily, the damage was repaired, the game went on, and here we are.

No one expects a repeat of that here on Saturday, but it’s a bit apt considering that the winds of change are sweeping through the game.

This is Spain’s time. Regardless of who wins on Saturday night, Spain will hold four of the five major trophies in the world sport. (The final one, the Copa America, they not eligible for). Sevilla upset Benfica ten days ago in the Europa League; Spain are also the defending European and World Cup champions. A Madrid team will hold the European Cup on Saturday. The only blemish on this recent run, if you can call it that, is the national team’s second-place finish at the distinctly second-tier Confederations Cup. This moment, right here, could stand as a capstone for a remarkable era in world football, a period of dominance not seen since West Germany’s reign over world football in 1975 (Only one trophy in 1975, the now-defunct Cup Winner’s Cup, was outside of German hands).

The Spanish fans who packed the Metro this afternoon to overflowing are rightfully giddy, even if their presence has been met with some chagrin. There is no statue of Neptune here, but the fans have been clambering up anything stone in Rossio Square, with scarves and flags since the sun came up, and Real fans have simply taken over two whole plazas in a sort of Occupy Lisbon movement. You cannot walk on the platform at Marques de Pombal without tripping over a red and white flag. And good luck getting a seat at any café in Chiado as they’re all taken by guys in orange, purple or white. Benfica’s treble? Forgot by all but A Bola, the local sports paper that somewhat grudgingly gave space to the final on their cover on Saturday (Yesterday’s cover? A take-out on Jan Oblak, Benfica’s goalkeeper).

It’s a friendly crowd as well, with packs passing each other on the streets or the trams, trading cheers and tuneless songs — but without a shred of menace. Some of that is due to the historic achievement gap between these two, but some of it has to be the fact that this is Spain’s time in the sun.

How long this lasts is open to debate. Atletico have been overachievers in the extreme, low-cost Davids who have ejected a series of clubs backed by sugar daddies and petrodollars. Real Madrid and Barcelona have money to burn, but the latter is on the slide and seems to be entering a rebuilding period. And Spain, while a favorite in Brazil, are not the favorites to win the whole thing.

Fans of Spanish football should enjoy it while it lasts.

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