World Cup 2014: Can Spain Do It Again?

The 2014 World Cup starts today. I’m pretty sure many Americans I know couldn’t care less. But this American is pumped! Let’s get it starrrrrrrrrrted!

Quick confession: I don’t even like soccer that much. I’m a Hoosier, you see, and in the Hoosier state, basketball is king. Still, the longer I stay in Spain, the more I get into it. I even care about La Liga (Spain’s national league) a little bit now! I got excited when Real Madrid won this year’s Champion’s League cup. Nonetheless, my favorite team will always be La Roja, the Spanish national team.

I first came to Spain in 2008. That year, the Spaniards won the Eurocup (kind of like the World Cup, but only for European countries). I actually didn’t even notice. But in 2010, when the South African World Cup rolled around, I was dating a Spaniard … and my dad bought us jerseys!

Mario Spain jersey

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The Other Sports—There’s More than Just Soccer in Spain

Soccer, soccer, soccer. Or—if you must—football, football, football. (As an aside, please do not get Mario started on this topic about the inane naming of a sport where you hardly use your feet.)

Living in Spain means being constantly surrounded by the sport and custom football team uniforms. I tried to resist, but resistance is futile. Grin and bear it until your grin is no longer fake. Empecé a cogerle cariño (I started to almost like it) in the summer of 2010, when Spain was fighting to win its first World Cup title. Iniesta, you changed my life. I do love the Spanish national team, but when it comes to La Liga or la Champion’s, you can count me out.

Camiseta Selección Española

Besides, I’m a Hoosier. We eat, sleep, drink, and dream basketball.

Hoosier Hysteria

But—believe it or not!—there are other sports in Spain. Let’s take a look at some of the most popular.


Motorsports include Formula One, IndyCar, Stock Car (see: NASCAR), Motocross, and all other sorts of racing involving motorized vehicles. In Spain, the most popular ones are Formula 1 and some involving motorcyles (e.g., MotoGP).

Fernando Alonso 2012 Grand Prix

[Source: Wikipedia]

Some of the most famous Spanish athletes in this category include: Fernando Alonso, a Formula One driver (piloto, as they in Spanish), a two-time World Champion, who races for Ferrari; Jorge Lorenzo, a motorcycle road racer and World Champion in 250cc and MotoGP; and Dani Pedrosa, a Grand Prix motorcycle racer and champion in 250cc Grands Prix.


People do like basketball in Spain, and the NBA is very popular here, sometimes even more popular than back at home. (In Indiana, we’re college-basketball fans.) Sometimes when I mention that I’m from Indiana, someone will excitedly shout at me, “Indiana Pacers!” There is also a Spanish league, called La Liga ACB, and it’s regulated by the International Basketball Federation (FIBA from its name in French). This league is regulated quite differently from the NBA and is populated by many Americans who weren’t quite good enough to make it back home as well as others who desire to play in the competitive European leagues.

The Spanish league competes to win the Copa del Rey, the King’s Cup, (just like in the soccer league) as well as in the Euroleague.

Some Spanish-basketball-player names you may recognize:

Pau Gasol

Pau Gasol, who plays for the Los Angeles Lakers, is four-time NBA All-Star and has won two NBA championships with the Lakers.

Ricky Rubio

Ricky Rubio, who plays for Minnesota Timberwolves, was the youngest player ever to play in the Spanish league at age 14. He was drafted by the Timberwolves in 2009, and thus became the first player born in the 1990s to drafted by the NBA.

Serge Ibaka

Serge Ibaka, who plays for Oklahoma City Thunder (formerly the Seattle Supersonics), is a Spanish player who was born in the Republic of the Congo. He is the third youngest of eighteen (!) siblings.


Perhaps the biggest reason tennis is so popular is Rafa Nadal, considered to be the best Spanish tennis player of all time.

Rafa Nadal

Rafa, also known as “The King of Clay” for his incredible success on clay courts, is only 26 years old, but has won eleven Grand Slam singles titles (including seven French Open titles) and an Olympic gold medal in singles in 2008. His success, charisma, and general likability have turned him into the singular reason for the sport’s popularity in Spain.


Futsal (fútbol sala) is like soccer, but played indoors on a smaller field. Its name comes from the Portuguese futebol de salão, “hall football.” Spain’s team has won the FIFA Futsal World Cup twice and the UEFA Futsal Championship six times, making it second after Brazil.


Perhaps the most surprising of all to me, handball (balonmano) is quite popular around the country. In handball, two teams of seven players pass the ball (with their hands, surprise surprise!) in order to score a goal. There are two thirty-minute halves. Goals are scored quite frequently, and the game moves fast, making it enjoyable to watch.

Handball Spain Champions


In 2013, Spain won the World Men’s Handball Championship, defeating Denmark 35–19.


Cycling is also quite popular here, and has been since the mid-1900s. The Vuelta a España, or Tour of Spain, is one of the most important events in the cycling world alongside the famous Tour de France and Giro d’Italia.

The Tour de France is unquestionably the most famous of the three, and there have been Spanish champions, including Federico Bahamontes, Luis Ocaña, Pedro Delgado, Óscar Pereiro, Alberto Contador, and Carlos Sastre. But perhaps the most famous is Miguel Indurain, who won for five years running between 1991 and 1995 and held the record until broken by Lance Armstrong. (This is not to say there hasn’t been cycling controversy here the same as in the US.)

Miguel Indurain

Miguel Indurain in 1996

So there you have it. Spain: it’s not all about football. (But it is mainly about football. No denying it.)

How to Annoy a Spaniard

After seeing the posts on Matador about How to Piss off a German/Chilean/Italian/Dane, Mario told me I needed to write one about Spaniards. I’m a bit hesitant because writing this post could possibly piss (some of) them off. I’m a much bigger fan of making them think I’m awesome, so … you’ll understand my hesitance. Nonetheless, as I wrote it, I found that in the end it was really a complimentary post. Read on; perhaps you’ll see why.

  • Tell them you prefer the food in the States/England/your home country. Spaniards are immensely proud of their cuisine—and rightfully so. Spanish food is awesome, and I miss it when I’m not here. There’s nothing than can replace my suegra’s cooking. She makes the best lentejas (lentil stew), tortilla de patata (Spanish potato omelette), homemade mayonnaise, pan de queso (cheese bread), carne guisada (a kind of roast meat), pisto (similar to ratatouille, but better), etc. I can’t say enough good things. But still. Sometimes I prefer the States, simply because of the variety. There’s spicy food! There’s spices to buy in bulk, like garam masala and star anise. There’s brown sugar! There’s Thai / Indian / Afghani / Tibetan / Vietnamese—and this is all in my college town of Bloomington. So avoid it. Their food is better (and honestly, it is divine).r_lentejas_s31340053_01


  • Refer to American football as just football. Mario loves to joke about this—”Why should it be called football when they just kick the ball when they … punt, you call it? In real football, the players use their feet all the time.” He doesn’t get pissed off, but he’s very hard to piss off, I’ll admit.
  • Tell them soccer is boring. I personally do not believe soccer is boring. It can be boring, and I do prefer basketball (duh!), but I’ve heard many of my countrymen say this. I recommend not saying this in front of any big Spanish soccer fan, at least not without some caveats about how you are an idiot and your opinions don’t matter.



  • Prance around in sweatpants. Sweatpants are perfectly acceptable—in your own home. Outside on the streets? Not unless you’re going to the gym, mister. Also, tennis shoes (or trainers or sneakers) probably shouldn’t be worn unless your circumstances fit into the above-described ones. Mario’s mother recently saw him on the street wearing (what I thought were normal, decent-looking) pants and tennis shoes—and let’s just say she was less than pleased. She urged Mario to throw away the pants, pants I found perfectly normal looking. I just don’t get it, I suppose.
  • Insist that cold weather doesn’t cause colds. Even if the research shows differently, Many Spaniards (including my dear suegra) will insist that many weather-related things cause you to “coger frío,” including: not wearing adequate clothing in the winter (sweaters, scarves), drastic temperature changes, drinking cold water in the winter, etc. There is no point in insisting that viruses cause colds, not cold weather. Just wear your scarf, damn it! Cold water is for summer.
  • Insist on subtitles instead of dubbing when watching a movie on television. Spaniards are very used to dubbing. In contrast, I’ve watched very few movies dubbed into English, and, honestly, I hated them. I prefer subtitles, and I don’t mind “reading” the movie, as some see it. But in Spain, almost every movie is subtitled and so are many TV shows—unless, of course, they’re made in Spain. But there are a lot of American movies and TV shows here. In fact, The Simpsons are much more popular here than in the States.

I want to reiterate that this post is all in good fun … but what would you add?