The 1982 World Cup is memorable for some many reasons. There are so many indelible images from that sultry Spanish summer of 33 years ago that it is almost impossible to recall them all. Recalled they are, though, and this includes a smattering of memories and images of such potency that the tournament has had a hard time delivering anything of the same calibre since.

There is Falcão’s impression of Lou Ferrigno’s Hulk: veins bulging, mouth agape in exaltation after his equaliser against Italy in Barcelona’s Sarria Stadium. From that same game, there is the image of the crestfallen Éder making the sign of the cross as he forlornly exits the pitch after his country’s crushing 3-2 defeat. Earlier in the second group phase came the bestubbled Diego Maradona’s castration attempt on João Batista as the holders came unstuck against Brazil. Alberto Tarantini’s subsequent hug and ruffling of the diminutive maestro’s hair as he crept away, humiliated after his sending-off, is also up there in the collective World Cup memory bank. Bryan Robson’s 27-second opener against France in Bilbao and David Narey’s toe-poke against Brazil, together with John Motson’s screeching of “Armstrong!” after the Watford man had scored the winner for Northern Ireland against Spain, are memories of a time when more than one British nation made it to the finals.

The absolute jewel, however, has to be the semi-final held on 8 July deep in the south, in Seville’s Estadio Ramón Sánchez Pizjuán. This was a Franco-German encounter worthy of Greek tragedy, with Platini as tragic hero, and Schumacher’s assault on Battiston as catastrophe, while the fates ultimately decreed that Jupp Derwall’s Germans would triumph in the end. All this before we even consider the ultimate victors, Italy, whose Paolo Rossi inspired revival following the 1980 Tontonero bribery scandal is one of the great tales of World Cup history.

The emotive nature of Italy’s triumph in Madrid is encapsulated by Marco Tardelli’s goal celebration: a release of tension and an outpouring of joy, elation and wonderment seldom bettered in the finals. Perhaps Tardelli’s moment of rapture is, above all, the signature image of that summer’s World Cup.

One thing España 82 is hardly ever recalled for though, is the performance of the host nation itself. Seeded as hosts, Spain were drawn in a group alongside Northern Ireland, Yugoslavia and Honduras. It was a pool which was considered navigable enough, although Miljan Miljanić’s Yugoslavs had topped their qualifying group ahead of Italy and were considered serious dark horses. Billy Bingham’s Northern Ireland were another surprise package, having finished behind Scotland in UEFA Group 6, ahead of Sweden, Portugal and Israel. The Central Americans, Honduras, had edged out Mexico to win the CONCACAF qualifiers, where they were joined by El Salvador who had ended up in Group 3 with Argentina, Belgium and Hungary.

If Spain seems a natural destination for the World Cup party to descend upon, back in 1982 it was still a country coming to terms with itself following the return of democracy. Awarded the tournament in 1976, just a year after Franco’s death, it was hoped that Mundial 82 would present a revitalised Spain to the world. Similarly, whereas today’s La Liga outfits dominate continental competition and also top the charts where global revenues are concerned, the years preceding 1982 tell a different story.

Real Madrid’s golden days were a distant memory back in 1982, with the last of their six European Cups having been won in 1966. In the intervening years, Spanish clubs had appeared in just two European Cup finals – and lost both – with Atlético Madrid coming off second best to Bayern Munich in 1974 and city neighbours Real Madrid having been vanquished by Bob Paisley’s Liverpool in Paris seven years later.

The Cup Winners’ Cup tells only a slightly more uplifting tale, with just three Spanish club victories since the tournament’s inception. These were, however, recent affairs with wins for Barcelona in 1979 and in World Cup year 1982, alongside Valencia’s penalty shoot-out triumph over Arsenal in 1980. In the UEFA Cup, a runners-up spot for Athletic Bilbao in 1977 was the sole credible Spanish performance in the second-tier competition during the decade preceding World Cup 82. For the national team things had been even leaner still.

Spain’s record in the World Cup up to 2010 was, at best, patchy. Of the nations considered to be among the continent’s football elite, only England has a worse record. In 1982, that record looked even bleaker still. Like England, Spain had a lone international success and, like England, that had been achieved on home soil. The 1964 European Championships, only the second to be held, had been won by Spain in Madrid. That victory was sandwiched between first round exits in the 1962 and 1966 World Cups. Spain did not even bother to enter the inaugural tournament in Uruguay in 1930, while the national team failed to qualify in 1934.

In 1938, with World War looming, Spain withdrew from the World Cup and, on its return in 1950, finished a credible fourth in Brazil. In Switzerland and in Sweden, in 1954 and 1958, the Spaniards were conspicuous by their absence, as they were in both 1970 and 1974. Their 1978 appearance in Argentina, where they failed to negotiate a group containing Brazil, Austria and Sweden, was their first participation in the finals for a dozen years.

This was hardly the stuff of a “great” footballing nation. An appearance at the newly formatted two-group European Championships in 1980 had also ended in failure. Drawn alongside hosts Italy, Belgium and England, Spain brought up the rear and failed to get beyond the group stage. That tournament was, wrote Uli Hesse “a hideous disfigurement of football” won by West Germany “because they played two decent halves while no other team could produce more than one”. All this hardly augured well for España 82, and makes the resulting month-long fiesta of football that followed all the more remarkable. For Spain, their problems were such that they failed to join in at their own party.

Drawn to host Group 5, where they would be based in Valencia and Zaragoza, Spain opened up against Honduras at 9pm local time on 16 June. Although Spain’s Uruguayan-born coach, former Real Madrid European Cup winner José Santamaria, exuded a quiet confidence, he had attempted to temper that positivity with caution. After eight minutes it was clear his caution was understandable when Honduras defender Héctor Zelaya put the Central Americans ahead. Spain thrust forward without any tangible reward until, in the 65th minute, a clear foul resulted in a Roberto López Ufarte penalty for Spain.

In their opening fixture Spain came away with a point and, although they had been dominant, talk of them repeating Hungary’s result against El Salvador in the previous evening’s fixture had been risible. There, a patently disorganised El Salvador had been stunned 10-1 in Elche by the flying Magyars. In Valencia’s Luís Casanova Stadium, Honduras had been anything but disorganised as a classy Ramón Maradiaga put on a controlled display in midfield.

Spain remained in Valencia for their second group fixture against Yugoslavia. Where Northern Ireland had been goalless against Miljanić’s team in Zaragoza, Spain’s second group game with the team from the Balkans was one of the best, and most free-flowing, of the tournament. It was also, unfortunately, one of the most controversial, for an incident in the 14th minute that turned the game on its head and effectively decided the fate of Yugoslavia.

Playing in their all-white change strip, Yugoslavia were dominant early on, with midfield composure working in tandem with the trickery of Petrović and Sušić, and the scheming intelligence of Edhem Šljivo. In the eighth minute defender Ivan Gudelj, hailed as the “Beckenbauer of Zmijavci” by his native press, headed past Arconada to give Yugoslavia a merited early lead. From a Petrović free-kick chipped into the box, the Spanish marking was non-existent, from which Gudelj was only required to get a modicum of scalp to the ball. Minutes later the game turned when Miguel Ángel Alonso surged towards the opposing penalty area only to be brought down by Velimir Zajec.

Despite being clearly outside the penalty area, Danish referee Henning Lund-Sørensen for the spot-kick. Already incensed, the Yugoslav players were further convinced of an injustice when Juanito was invited to retake the penalty after placing his first attempt wide of the post. The Real Madrid forward subsequently stroked the retake home to level the scores, after TV replays confirmed that Dragan Pantelić had moved so far off his line first time round that he was almost close enough to untie Juanito’s boot laces. For Yugoslavia, however, the damage had been done: Zajec’s initial trip was clearly outside the area and ITV’s Gerald Sindstadt was not alone when he observed “It looks very dubious to me”.

In the 66th minute Valencia midfielder Enrique Saura bundled home the ball at the far post to make it 2-1 on his home ground. After contributing so much to an enthralling contest it seemed particularly cruel for Yugoslavia to go away with nothing. Still, Spain it was who topped the group at this stage, after Honduras and Northern Ireland ended up with a point a piece the night after in Zaragoza. In their final group game Spain seemed out of luck against Northern Ireland.

Yugoslavia had narrowly beaten Honduras the previous evening thanks to a Vladimir Petrović penalty which meant that while Honduras were out, both the hosts and Yugoslavia were level on three points. The Ulstermen, on the other hand, had two points from their two drawn games. In the most emotional evening in Northern Irish football history, John Motson almost seared his own vocal chords when Gerry Armstrong rifled past Luis Arconada in the 47th minute. Improbably, the score remained 1-0 and Northern Ireland advanced as group winners, while the Spaniards moved to Madrid to face West Germany and England. José Santamaria, straining to present a diplomatic and credible face in the firing line of questioning, argued:

“It is sad and lamentable that our goalkeeper played three games without even touching the ball and in the three attacks against us they scored three goals. We did not play a lesser game than we played against Yugoslavia. We dominated from beginning to end and had the misfortune that in one counter-attack a goal was scored against us.”

Spain had their big stage in the second round, although the tournament was effectively over for them the moment Luis Arconada fumbled against West Germany and Pierre Littbaski lashed home the rebound. In front of a 90,000 capacity crowd in the Bernabéu, Jesús Zamora scored a consolation goal late in the game to give a respectable gloss to the 2-1 scoreline.

Three days later, in front of 75,000 on Madrid’s hallowed turf, the two great underachievers of European and world football skulked away from the tournament, one unbeaten, the other having only won one game in five. If England’s stay in Spain can be seen as a credible performance following a 12 year absence from the tournament, Spain’s displays as host are probably the worst in the history of the tournament.

Yes, South Africa failed to negotiate the group stages in 2010 and, yes, Japan exited the party on home soil in 2002 at the last 16 stage; neither South Africa or Japan, however, can seriously claim to be leading footballing powers with cherished traditions in the club game at domestic and continental level. For Spain, their inert showings on home soil in 1982 were a humiliating national spectacle. When José Santamaria departed soon after, his successor, Miguel Muñoz, claimed “we must recover the Spanish fury”.

It did not take long for Muñoz to instill the fury and see the results. When the national team required victory by an 11 goal margin to reach the 1984 European Championships in late 1983, his team ran out 12-1 winners against Malta to supplant the Dutch and advance to the finals in France. There, with a squad which contained just seven survivors from the 1982 World Cup campaign, Spain almost broke their string of bad luck.

As fate had denied the French in Seville two years earlier, so it denied Spain in Paris in 1984. When a Platini free-kick inexplicably crept under Luis Arconada’s body, it seemed that nothing would ever go their way. Still, an appearance in the final at the culmination of a tournament which was a triumph for football was a step in the right direction.

At Mexico 86 too, Muñoz’s men performed with verve and yes, fury, to thrash Denmark 5-1 before unluckily running out of steam against Belgium in the quarter-finals. The conquest of the Danes in Queretaro on that great afternoon in June 1986, along with the emergence of Emilio Butragueño, was the high water mark of the Muñoz years, after which there followed a 22-year tale of woe at major tournaments before all the wrongs of the past were made good in Vienna in 2008.

Miguel Muñoz once memorably argued that “Success is the result of discipline and big moments coming together”. When the future 1st Marquis of del Bosque embarked upon a coaching career at the age of 37, he might very well have done so having imbibed those very nuggets of wisdom as a young man from Miguel Muñoz. Vicente del Bosque was himself a survivor of the tepid tournament that was Euro 80, and had lost a European Cup final as a player with Real Madrid.

Having seen both discipline and big moments come together as a coach at Real Madrid, he took his own avuncular twist on the Muñoz philosophy to La Roja, where he ensured that Spain’s reputation as perennial underachievers was well and truly dead and buried.

By Gareth Bland. Follow @peakdistrictman