World Cup reaches fever pitch

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MADRID, July 10 – Football fever swept Spain and the Netherlands Saturday as fans desperate to taste World Cup success for the first time painted the streets red and orange.Euro 2008 champions Spain are favourites to lift the trophy for the first time in Sunday’s clash at Johannesburg’s Soccer City stadium but the Dutch, twice defeated finalists, are confident they can win.

Throughout the Netherlands entire streets are lined with orange flags and some homes have been covered with plastic sheets in the national colour.

Flags prematurely declaring Holland, ranked fourth in the world, the 2010 football World Cup champions are selling like hot cakes.

Sales of televisions, barbecue sets and orange accessories are expected to reach a peak on Saturday, according to a spokeswoman for the Dutch retailers federation, Yvonne Fernhout.

In The Hague, animal protection services have urged people not to blow too hard on their vuvuzela horns during the match to avoid terrorising their pets.

Dutch brewer Heineken said it had put production on hold across the country to allow to watch the match.

Police are pleading with fans to behave long enough for them to watch the match while Dutch airline KLM said it would keep its pilots updated on all the crucial moments of the match.

Giant television screens are being installed in several cities.

The biggest gatherings of supporters on Sunday are expected in Amsterdam, where up to 50,000 watched the semi-final against Uruguay on the Museumplein (Museum Square) and in Rotterdam.

Authorities are planning a boat parade in Amsterdam if the Dutch win, with a million people expected to turn out.

In Madrid, the players will be feted in a parade in an open-top bus even if their team, ranked second in the world, come up short.

At least 150,000 fans of La Roja (the Reds) are expected to cram Madrid’s main Paseo de Castellana avenue on Sunday evening to witness Spain’s first ever appearance in a World Cup final on giant screens in a "fan park".

Municipal workers have draped flags over the Cibeles and Neptune fountains, where fans of Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid celebrate their victories.

Spain’s Mahou beer company has launched an Internet campaign for July 11 to be named a national holiday if Spain lift the World Cup, and the supermarket chain Carrefour is offering 25 percent reductions on television sets.

Even in Catalonia, a region with its own distinct culture and language and which has traditionally been disdainful of the Spanish national team, there was growing enthusiasm.

Authorities in the Catalan capital of Barcelona agreed for the first time during the tournament to set up a giant outdoor screen for the match.

But the Spanish football fever rankles with some.

"We have ended up with more Spanish flags than ‘senyeras’ (the yellow and red-striped Catalan flag) flying from balconies and all over the place," an upset Catalan regional government chief, leftist separatist Josep Lluis Carod-Rovira, complained on his blog.

Centre-right daily El Mundo picked up on the issue Friday, saying that "Catalan nationalists are worried about the pull of the national side" on people in the region.

El Mundo, a vociferous opponent of Catalan nationalism, rejoiced in so many people "coming out of the cupboard" to support the Spanish — who include many players from Catalan giants Barcelona — as they prepare to take on the Dutch.

The paper said 74 percent of viewers in the region had watched the semi-final win over Germany — without speculating how many might actually have supported the Germans.

Catalans have in the past been reticent about backing the Spanish side. They have their own "national" selection, but it plays only friendly internationals.

One pundit predicting a win for the Spanish is the feted octopus Paul, who became a World Cup sensation by correctly predicting the outcome of all six of Germany’s World Cup games from his aquarium home in western Germany.

But the Dutch are not too dismayed as Pauline, a female octopus in the Netherlands, forecast a win for Holland, albeit in her first attempt at clairvoyancy.

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