The misfortunes of the Spanish national football side have been discussed widely, and credited in part on the diversity of Spain with little attachment to the national team, as well as to the intense rivalry between the two major clubs, Real Madrid and FC Barcelona. Still, Spain has always entered a tournament as a major favourite, although never (yet) living up to the expectations. However, in 1994 the Spanish team came very close to success against Italy in a world cup where other major European powers (France and England) had not qualified.
The Spanish side was coached by Javier Clemente, arguably one of the most unpopular coaches Spain had ever had, but who clung stubbornly to the job in spite of criticism about his style and what seemed an overwhelming selection of players from his native Basque country. Many of these players came from the extraordinary Barcelona side that had won the Spanish leagues from 1991 to 1994, and in fact their results had been quite good in spite of the heavy criticism against Clemente.
Spain had started the tournament by tying South Corea 2-2 and Germany 1-1, while a 3-1 victory against Bolivia had given them the second spot in the group behind Germany. In the last-16 Spain had crushed Switzerland 3-0 and now saw their chance for world cup success as they were to face Italy in the quarter-finals.
Contrary to Spain, Italy had not looked too strong in the tournament and had made it to the quarter-final on some very close calls: in the first round Italy had started out by losing 1-0 to Ireland in a match that was historical for the islanders. In the second match Italy had defeated Norway 1-0 on a goal by the Juventus midfielder Dino Baggio, and in their last match 1-1 against Mexico had been just enough to let the Azzuri through on one of the best third places.
In the last-16 Italy was against the African debutants from Nigeria, who had sensationally won their group ahead of Bulgaria and Argentina. The Nigerians dominated the match against Italy and were leading 1-0 until two minutes before time when the extraordinary Roberto Baggio from Juventus equalized for the Italians, and in extra time scored on a penalty to give the Italians the place in the quarter-final against Spain in Boston, Massachussetts.
The match between the two northern Mediterranean teams was to be very dramatic, with the Italians starting out the best against an apparently nervous Spanish side with more possession, and Roberto Baggio having an excellent shot deflected by Albert Ferrer to corner kick after 15 minutes.
And 25 minutes into the first half Italy went ahead: the AC Milan midfielder Roberto Donadoni passed the ball to Dino Baggio who spectacularly shot from 30 meters and scored without a chance for Barcelona’s (Basque) goalkeeper Andoni Zubizarreta.
Although Spain tried moving forward, and increased possession, Italy was the better team in the first half and was leading as well. But in the second half Spain attacked more, with Italy increasingly and as usual relying on their counter-attacks.
But it only took fifteen minutes into the second hand before Spain nevertheless equalised: Barcelona’s offensive left-back, Sergi, rushed forward on the left side on a quick Spanish counter-attack and centred low before the Italian defence was in place. A Spanish player jumped over the ball which went to Atlético Madrid’s elegant midfielder José Luis Caminero, who had enough time to try to curve the ball into the goal outside of Gianluca Pagliuca’s reach with the help of a small deflection from an Italian defender.
Spain suddenly smelled Italian blood, and started to press on, but without luck. In the 83rd minute the Barcelona striker Julio Salinas missed a golden opportunity alone with Pagliuca, but shot weakly right on the Sampdoria goalkeeper’s leg. Also, the Real Madrid defender Fernando Hierro had a good shot from outside that just went over the crossbar.
But as often happens in football, Italy went ahead instead on a splendid counterattack following one of the Spanish chances: a long ball from the Italian defense caught the Spanish defense off guard as two Italian players rushed forward. The ball dropped towards the Lazio striker Giuseppe Signori, who with the tip of his toe managed to tip the ball over a Spanish defender to his right side, where Roberto Baggio was running alone. With great skill Baggio controlled the ball immediately, and elegantly and quickly went around the onrushing Zubizarreta. Although the angle to shoot was getting very small, Baggio made no mistake and hammered the ball into goal as a Spanish defender desperately tried to block on the goalline.
The Italians were off course delighted, while the Spaniards could do nothing in the last minutes but push forward. In the last minute of the match the Real Madrid player Luis Enrique was brought down in the Italian area by the AC Milan defender Mauro Tassotti during a cross. The Hungarian referee, Sandor Puhl, gave nothing to the Spaniards, while Luis Enrique got up with a bleeding face from the elbow Tassotti had given him. The TV pictures clearly showed the infraction and Tassotti was banned for eight matches, but this was a poor consolation for the Spaniards who went out of the tournament.
Spain obviously felt badly treated by the referee and by the Italians, who had nevertheless played their best game of the tournament. The Italians went on to defeat Bulgaria 2-1 in the semifinal on two goals by Roberto Baggio who had become their saviour in the tournament. In the final, Italy nevertheless lost to Brazil on penalty kicks, after Roberto Baggio missed his crucial kick….
The Spanish sides continued to have an Italy-complex that was perhaps only broken in 2008, when they defeated Italy in the quarterfinals of the European championships and went on to win the tournament.
World Cup glory has still continued to elude Spain.
- 9th July 1994, Foxboro Stadium, Boston
- Attendance: 53,400
- Referee: Sandor Puhl (Hungary)
Goals: 1-0 Dino Baggio (26), 1-1 José Luis Caminero (59), 2-1 Roberto Baggio (88)
Italy: Pagliuca; Benarrivo, Costacurta, Maldini, Tassott, Albertini (Signori), D. Baggio, Conte (Berti), Donadoni, R. Baggio, Massaro
Spain: Zubizarreta; Ferrer, Abelardo, Sergi (Salinas), Caminero, Alkorta, Nadal, Otero, Goicoechea, Bakero (Hierro), Luis Enrique