Spain 2-1 USSR at Euro 64: the night La Roja lifted their maiden international title

Spain 2-1 USSR at Euro 64: the night La Roja lifted their maiden international title

This feature is a part of RETEUROSPECTIVE

At the height of the Cold War, one would have been forgiven for thinking that if anybody was going to cause an international incident through the medium of football, it would have been the Soviet Union and the United States. However, when such an incident occurred during the inaugural 1960 European Championship, it was Francoist Spain in the middle of it. 

Drawn against the Soviets in the quarter-final, Spain’s military dictator Francisco Franco refused to let his side travel to Moscow, fearing the communist propaganda that would be generated should La Roja lose. The Spanish were disqualified as a result, and the Soviet Union went on to humiliate the Spaniards anyway by winning the championship in Paris. 

Four years later in Madrid, the two nations finally met on a football pitch, this time to contest the 1964 final rather than simply the quarters. It was undeniably the game of the decade given the preamble, and the first ten minutes of the match certainly lived up to those expectations.

Kicking off, the hosts dominated the initial proceedings and were rewarded for their good play by taking a very early lead. A nice touch out wide by Internazionale’s Luis Suárez allowed the number 10 to send a dangerous cross into the box, looping over the Soviet defence. A brief scuffle for the landing ball saw Spain’s Jésus Pereda break free of his marker and fire a shot into Lev Yashin’s near corner. 

Spain’s slender lead lasted a meagre two minutes. Soviet full-back Valery Voronin received the ball on the halfway line and produced a wonderful chipped pass into Galimzyan Khusainov with the goal at his mercy. The winger’s eventual shot was tame, but it somehow defeated José Iribar in goal and rolled into the bottom corner.

The equaliser would be the last shot on goal for either side until the 32nd minute, by which stage much of the crowd’s excitement had dissipated and the idea of one these teams being crowned European champions was probably beginning to feel quite underwhelming. 

That 32nd-minute Soviet shot flew comfortably wide of Iribar’s goal, but it seemed to wake the Spanish from their lethargy. Amancio Amaro, whose exciting dribbling was one of the few bright spots from the first half, collected the ball under plenty of Soviet pressure. The Real Madrid winger managed to beat his markers and get to the edge of the box where he passed into Spain’s number nine, Marcelino, who subsequently laid the ball off to Carlos Laperta.

The winger fired a mean shot straight at Yashin, but the ‘Black Spider’ was able to keep the scores level. Spain’s flurry of chances continued through Marcelino, who glanced a corner over the bar a few minutes later. Thus, the first half ended with little between the two teams. 

The second half continued very much in the same vein, with few chances and little quality play from either side. However, things changed around the 60th minute when Amaro picked up a clearance from a Soviet corner and charged past three defenders on the counter. Though the layoff and resulting shot ended in a corner for Spain, the move proved a collective light bulb moment for the Spanish team.

Suddenly, Amaro and Suárez began to see a lot more of the ball and La Roja began creating chances. A few minutes after the aforementioned corner, Pereda was taken down in the box when Marcelino’s header found the Spanish number eight in space, but no penalty was awarded. 

Feliciano Rivilla then became the latest Spaniard to find himself in space in the Soviet box, his shot forcing Yashin to deflect the ball out for a corner, from which Zoco’s header sailed narrowly over the bar. 

In the dying embers of the game, Spain finally made their late breakthrough in the 84th minute. The scorer of the opener, Jésus Pereda, twisted and turned past full-back Viktor Shustiov and fired a cross into the Soviet box where Marcelino was the quickest to react. Standing unguarded in the middle of the box, the Zaragoza forward flicked the ball past Yashin to secure a famous win for Spanish football and save Franco’s blushes.

By Kristofer McCormack

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