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Spain at Euro 1988 | El Centrocampista
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El Centrocampista

EURO 1988: Total Football – but not from Spain

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Twenty years prior to their 2008 victory in Austria and Switzerland, Spain travelled to West Germany for the 1988 European Championships full of confidence after breezing through the qualification stage of the tournament. 

Drawn in a group containing the host nation, Italy and Denmark, who they had trounced 5-1 in the World Cup second round two years earlier, hopes were high among the Spanish squad as they made the journey to their base camp in southern Germany.

Spain’s opening match was against Denmark, who had narrowly qualified for the finals after a 1-0 victory over Wales in Copenhagen, and Miguel Muñoz’s side produced a dominant performance – despite the encounter in Hannover finishing with a deceptively close scoreline.

The Spaniards imposed themselves from kick-off and took the lead with just five minutes played when Real Madrid star Míchel beat Danish keeper Troels Rasmussen after controlling a first-time cross from club-team mate Ricardo Gallego.

Denmark drew level 20 minutes later however when the gifted Michael Laudrup, soon to be on his way to Barcelona, fired past Andoni Zubizarreta from the edge of the area. Spain were further frustrated soon after when Rasmussen made a fine save to deny Míchel the chance to double his tally from the penalty spot.

Spain continued to surge forward and were finally back in front when Emilio Butragueño scored from close range minutes after the restart. A wonderfully struck free-kick from Rafael Gordillo made the score 3-1 with just under 25 minutes to play, and Spain looked to be coasting to victory – playing some exhibition football on the way.

Denmark managed to set up a tense finale however when a route-one ball found the head of Flemming Povlsen to loop over a stranded Zubizarreta and with eight minutes left on the clock, the Danes pushed forward in search of an unlikely equaliser.  Despite the lifeline it proved too little, too late for Sepp Piontek’s men and Spain began the tournament with the 3-2 victory.

The following match against Italy would again prove frustrating but also this time, hugely disappointing. Deploying their famous catanaccio defensive system the Italians comfortably contained the Spanish, with a young Paulo Maldini man-marked Míchel out of the game.  Having stifled everything Spain could offer, it was Italy who threatened most and, having failed to break the deadlock moments earlier, Gianluca Vialli struck the decisive goal in the 73rd minute to send la Roja to defeat.

With one win and one loss, Muñoz’s side now faced hosts West Germany in their final group game knowing nothing other than a victory would keep them at the tournament.

With the influential Míchel carrying an  injury into the Munich showdown, the pressure proved too much for Spain and a  Lothar Matthäus-inspired West German dominated the game.

The first goal came  just before the half-hour mark as Jürgen Klinsmann played in Rudi Völler to slot past Zubizarreta and it was Völler again who doubled their lead six minutes into the second half after a driving run and deft back heel from Matthäus.

A comfortable win against a Spanish side in disarray for most of the game. The tournament was over for Spain as Franz Beckenbaur’s West Germans went through to the knock-out phase with Italy, who beat Denmark 2-0  in Cologne.

The 1988 European Championships ultimately belonged to the fantastic Netherlands side coached by former-Barcelona tactician Rinus Michels as the Dutch finally overcame the disappointment of losing two consecutive World Cup finals in the 1970’s, to defeat the Soviet Union 2-0 in the final held at Munich’s Olimpiastadion.

The victory was made all the more memorable when Marco van Basten scored one of the greatest goals seen in any finals tournament.

The European Championships of 1988 proved to be a fantastic competition, packed with great matches and great players. Unfortunately for Spain however, it is probably one they would want to forget.




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