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With 24 per cent unemployment, wage cuts and little hope for improvement in the short term, the continental competition will at least take people's minds off their sad situation

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By Ben Hayward | Spain Expert

Forget the Group of Death, Spain's sector at Euro 2012 has been dubbed by some as the Group of Debt. The Iberians, Italy and Ireland have all been hit hard by the global financial crisis, while Croatia's foreign deficit has spiralled in recent times. Only Greece are missing from debt-ridden Group C.

The Greeks upset the odds at Euro 2004 with a shock success which brought an overwhelming outpouring of joy to the nation. Something similar happened with Spain in Austria and Switzerland four years later, following four decades of disappointment at international level, and there was more merriment as La Furia Roja claimed the World Cup in South Africa two years ago.

IN NUMBERS
Spain's current crisis
8 The budget deficit, in percentage terms. The European Commission want that number reduced by 5 per cent.
24.3 The percentage of unemployed in Spain; the highest in Europe
51.5 Over half of the country's under-25s are currently without work
62 The percentage fall of the Spanish stock market since its peak in 2007
€97 An unprecedented €97 billion of investor money fleed the country in the first three months of the year
972 The number of days the crisis has lasted so far. And it is showing little signs of ending any time soon
Now at the pinnacle of their powers on the football field, however, Spain as a country are on its knees. Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy visited Vicente del Bosque's side in Seville on Friday and, although unpopular with many, he seemed to sum up the mood of a nation when he said simply: "We could do with some joy."

Caution ensued. And the message from Spain coach del Bosque was clear: the country's crisis cannot be solved by their football team. "Winning the Euros won't solve Spain's problems," the Salmantine shrugged.

But it may help return something of a feelgood factor to a nation very much down in the dumps amid news of constant budget cuts, bank bailouts and unprecedented unemployment.

"We're in the midst of a serious crisis and, in one sense, football is a good thing for it,'' Xavi added. "If the national team is playing well then that can also have an effect on people's character. Let's see if we can provide some joy for the people.''

Football's force cannot be underestimated. Sport brings joy to the people and has served to lift morale in many a country before - even if only temporarily. Brazil's 1970 World Cup win and Argentine's 1978 success helped their respective populations through the atrocities of military dictatorships, while Chile's impressive run in 2010 raised spirits after the devastating earthquake earlier that year.

Spain's modern-day side may not have ever expected to see things so bad, but their 1964 triumph had come in the depressing days of the Franco era, and represented a big boost for the Spanish people - much like Real Madrid's stunning successes on the continent in the same decade.

Almost one in four Spaniards are currently without work, while many struggle to survive on the bare minimum. The current unemployment rate of 24.3 per cent is the highest in Europe and those in work are not necessarily much better off. Times are hard, so while Euro 2012 may not solve the country's crisis, it may just lift the mood. And any sort of joy is welcome in Spain right now.

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