For many people, Spain’s victory in Euro 2008 was an unexpected triumph. For 44 years La Roja had gone trophyless on the major international stages, and after clumsily negotiating their qualifying group (drawing with Iceland and suffering a now infamous 3-2 loss to Northern Ireland) hopes were not high. Xavi even pointed out before the tournament that Spain’s players were “used to watching finals on the couch”.
Little did he know then he would be crowned the tournament’s Best Player as his side would deservedly lift the trophy, Fernando Torres netting as they triumphed 1-0 over Germany in a tense final in Vienna. Spain had finally broken their duck, the prophecy of being one of football’s great underachievers finally destroyed.
Despite undoubtedly at times having the talent to go far in competitions, between 1964 and 2008 Spain hadn’t seen so much as a semi-final in competition football, except for on one occasion: the 1984 European Championships, where they reached the final. Much like in 2008, the success of the 1984 team came against all reckoning.
The 1970s were truly the darkest timeline for Spanish football. Spanish clubs’ domination of the continental competitions was long dead. After the national team’s success in ’64, they did reach the World Cup in 1966 but went out at the group stage, before failing to qualify for another tournament until 1978, missing five in a row.
They did make the 1978 World Cup in Argentina and Euro 80 in Italy – UEFA having expanded the finals to eight teams from four – but said goodbye in the group stages of both. Ambition was high when the World Cup came to Spain in 1982, but after disappointing in the first group stage – only managing a draw with Honduras and losing 1-0 to Northern Ireland, sacrificing the top spot in the group in the process – they finished bottom of their group in the second stage, losing 2-1 to West Germany and going out with a whimper as they just held onto a 0-0 draw with England in the closing stages.
Spain’s performances more than warranted their early exit. They lacked the ability to capitalise when they were on top and put teams away. Less La Furia Roja, more like La Letargo Roja. Manager José Santamaria was sacked after the tournament.
Miguel Muñoz, twice a European Cup winner and nine times a La Liga champion as coach of Real Madrid – and many more besides as a player – was chosen as Santamaria’s successor, immediately making it known that his intentions were to “recover the Spanish fury” that seemed lost in ’82.
Drawn in a qualifying group for Euro 84 with the Netherlands, Ireland, Iceland and Malta, Spain won five of their first six games and drew one (a 3-3 draw against, you guessed it, Ireland) and were two points clear of the Netherlands at the top of the group, knowing a win against them would see them through to the finals in France.
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Miguel Muñoz was the man tasked with changing the face of Spanish football
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With the game poised at 1-1, Houtman giving the Dutch the lead before a trademark Santilliana leaping header levelled things just before the half, Spanish hopes were dashed when Ruud Gullit smashing effort from 25-yards out found the top right corner. Goalkeeper Luis Arconada could only stretch out his arms and shrug in the universal sign for “I ain’t stopping that one” as Gullit wheeled away in ecstasy.
The victory, and Holland’s subsequent 5-0 thumping of group whipping boys Malta, meant Spain went into their final group game, also against Malta, knowing they needed at least an 11-goal margin of victory to progress to the Euros. No pressure then.
The reverse fixture on the Mediterranean island was a surprisingly close-run affair, with Malta actually leading 2-1 at one point, before a late goal from veteran defender Rafael Gordillo spared Spanish blushes as they snuck away with a 3-2 win. As such, many thought Spain’s chances of making the tournament were over, especially as they had only scored 12 goals throughout the entire qualifying campaign so far.
“Spain couldn’t even score 11 goals against a team of children,” was the opinion of Maltese keeper, John Bonello. In hindsight, he probably wished he’d kept his mouth shut. Almost 19,000 fans showed up in Seville to witness what would become one of the most famous nights in Spanish football history.
Santillana pulled his old small man who can jump trick and headed home the opener after 15 minutes. Malta actually pulled level when Demanuele’s shot took the mother of all deflections off Antonio Maceda and looped over the frantically backtracking Francisco Buyo. Spain did score twice more through Tim Cahillana, his second goal inexplicably coming from his right boot before reverting to form for his hat-trick clincher. At half-time though, things looked bleak for Spain’s qualification prospects.
Miguel Muñoz promised the return of the Spanish fury under his stewardship, and in the second half, La Furia reared its beautifully monstrous head. Spain launched wave after wave of attack on the Maltese goal. An early missed penalty did nothing to halt the red momentum. After the sixth goal, a calmly taken volley by Maceda, the Spanish commentator, doing his best excited squeaky voice, began to shout the goal Spain had reached, as the impossible began creeping ever closer into view.
Hipólito Rincón scored the pick of the bunch, a brilliant solo effort dancing past both Maltese centre-backs before finding the net to complete his own hat-trick, as Spanish Ronnie Whelan yelled “¡Ocho! ¡Ocho!” Santillana, Gordillo, and Sarabia added another three before the brilliantly named Juan Antonio Señor scored the famous decider. Full time: Spain 12-1 Malta. La Furia had returned, a chapter of Spanish footballing history was written, and Spain were on their way to France next June.
Over the course of the qualifying campaign the squad had evolved so much that the only seven of the 20 men that boarded the plane to France had played in the World Cup two years previous: Maceda, Arconada, Camacho, Urquiaga, Gordillo, Gallego, and Santillana. Stalwarts of the team like Quini and José Alexanko were phased out, as was the immensely talented but troubled Real Madrid star Juanito.
In their place, players such as Francisco José Carrasco, a tricky and clever winger, and Victor Muñoz, an ever dependable cog in the Barcelona midfield, worked their way back into the side and established themselves, while first opportunities were granted to players like Señor and Andoni Goikoetxea, the infamous “Butcher of Bilbao”. Muñoz also named two uncapped players in his 20-man squad for the finals: 22-year-old Athletic Club goalkeeper Andoni Zubizarreta and 20-year-old Real Madrid forward Emilio Butragueño.
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Read | Spain before greatness: World Cup 1982
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This new-look team hoped to banish the ghosts of ’82 and do the nation proud, but Romania, Portugal and defending champions West Germany stood in their way of making the knockout phase.
The opener against Romania saw Spain dominate the early exchanges and they went ahead midway through the first half, Gallego blatantly fouled by the Romanian goalkeeper on the break and Carrasco converted the resulting penalty. Romania had clearly been playing for the draw but, to their credit, came out well after the goal was scored and pulled one back ten minutes before half time. In a goal straight out of FIFA Ultimate Team, Marcel Coras drove into the box before unleashing a flurry of dreaded fake shots and a pull-back to set up the unmarked Ladislau Bölöni, who made it 1-1. A point each was not a horrible result but now a win was needed in one of the two games against the two fancied sides in the group.
The latest battle in the Iberian War was a must win for both sides, but ultimately they would have to settle for a 1-1 draw. Spain controlled proceedings in the first half, with Santillana and Gallego both denied by goalkeeper Bento. With their first shot on goal in the 52nd minute, Portugal went in front when Antonio Sousa’s chip beat Arconada. Chalana then rattled the bar from range, before Santillana nicked a point for Spain with 17 minutes left, firing in after a defensive mix up from the Portuguese. The draw suited neither side but more so La Roja, who now had to beat the table-topping West Germans to go through.
The defending champions, boasting such star names as Brehme, Rummenigge, Allofs, Völler, Matthäus and Schumacher in goal, would surely be too much of an obstacle. They had two golden chances to take the lead too, when Hans-Peter Briegel smashed the crossbar with a header from close range, and then Brehme’s low, powerful shot from the left had Arconada beaten, but the post came to Spain’s rescue.
Just before half-time, Spain were gifted a golden opportunity when Salva was brought down by Stielike in the box. Carrasco’s penalty was low and hard but too central, as it rebounded off the legs of Schumacher and was cleared.
The second half saw chances for both sides. Arconada, nicknamed El Pulpo (The Octopus) as sometimes he could be so unbeatable in goal it was as if he had eight limbs, was in inspired form as he twice denied Allofs. Then, as the game seemed destined to be an entertaining stalemate, a floated cross from John Anthony Mister was met powerfully by an unmarked Maceda, who headed Spain into the semi-finals.
While France and Portugal played out one of the classic games of the tournament’s history, Spain faced Denmark in the other semi. The Danish Dynamite made sure England spent the summer touring South America instead of France, and then overcame Belgium with a late Preben Elkjær goal to set up this tie.
Arconada was forced into a brilliant save, clawing Elkjær’s header out from the top corner, but Soren Lerby was on hand to give Denmark the lead from the rebound. Danish keeper Ole Qvist was every bit as heroic as Arconada in keeping his side in the game, but he was finally beaten midway through the second half. Denmark looked to have cleared from a sustained period of Spanish pressure (during which Sarabia struck the post) but the clearance came to Maceda, who struck a fantastic low shot from out of nowhere, shocking Qvist who dramatically collapsed after it went in. The game went on through extra-time – where Denmark played the last ten minutes with ten men after Klaus Berggreen’s dismissal – and penalties.
Brylle, Santillana, Olsen, Señor, Laudrup, Urquiaga, Lerby and Victor, all converted. With the shootout finely balanced at 4-4, up stepped Preben Elkjær. Diamonds are created under massive pressure, and here was his chance to mould himself into the history books as the Danish Dynamite’s diamond striker. Instead, Elkjær crumbled, sending his shot too high and too far right. Sarabia’s winning penalty was placed powerfully in the bottom left corner, tantalisingly just out of Qvist’s reach. Spain had reached the final, one more step to end 20 years of hurt. Only France could stop them now.
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Read | France’s legendary midfield Carré Magique
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Almost 48,000 arrived at the Parc des Princes, most of whom were eager to see the crowning achievement of their home boys. The French team best remembered for its heart: the famed Carré Magique, Luis Fernández, Alain Giresse, Jean Tigana, and Michel Platini, who selflessly and mesmerisingly moved the ball around, keeping it between themselves as if they formed a force field around it.
No other team had been able to stop them, particularly Platini, who was in the form of his life. Coming off both domestic and European success with his club Juventus, this was the apex of Platini’s powers, and he was unstoppable during this fateful summer. He had already found the net eight times in just four games so far in the tournament, averaging per game what Spain’s top scorer, Maceda, had scored throughout the whole thing.
Kick off, and Les Bleus apply a lot of early pressure, while Spain channel that famous fury by attempting to boot the French into submission. Surely they can’t play football with no legs can they? Gallego and Carrasco both saw yellow early as Spain struggled to settle, but the best chance of the half fell to them, and to the head of Santillana. Meeting Carrasco’s corner with a perfect connection, the ball zipped through the air before its progress was halted by Patrick Battiston on the line. Half time: 0-0
There was little to speak of in the second half until the 57th minute, when France won a free-kick on the edge of the Spanish box. Platini’s effort from the set piece was a dribbler of a shot across goal. An easy take, Luis Arconada must have thought, as he slumped left to clasp the ball. This time, however, El Pulpo’s suction cups failed him, as the ball squirmed under his body and past the line. An unfortunate blunder gifted France a lead they would not relinquish.
Spanish misery was doubled in added time, when Tigana sent through a perfect pass to the oncoming Bruno Bellone, who chipped Arconada to make sure of the French victory. Ricardo Gallego’s jog into the goal, arms flailing limply and head down, told the story. Despite their best physical efforts, La Roja would not taste glory on this day.
In many ways 1984 is Spain’s forgotten final. Most people when glancing at the history of the national side tend to look at the failings of ’82, and then move swiftly on to ’86, where Spain got revenge on Northern Ireland and blew up the Danish Dynamite, while putting on a show of exceptional, fast, furious attacking performances, before succumbing to the lottery of penalties in the quarter-finals against Belgium.
The 1984 campaign wasn’t the prettiest, or the highest scoring, but it laid the groundwork for the return of La Furia Roja in Mexico two years on. Spain deserved more than the quarter finals in 1986, like in many campaigns that would come before and after. 1984 was an oasis of relative success in a desert of underachievement. It did not herald the arrival of Spain on the world stage as a force. That would not happen until 2008, but even then 1984 had a direct impact on the success of Spain in the modern day.
A month before the tournament began, a baby boy was brought into the world in the tiny village of Fuentealbilla. This boy was far too young to remember Spain’s last final appearance, but would play a crucial part in the next three, and be the modern lasting legacy of the year 1984 in Spanish football. His name? Andrés Iniesta. Perhaps it wasn’t a bad year after all.
By Alex Dunne. Follow @scarlehferrari