El Centrocampista

Spain, France and the Calderon connection

When the draw for the European qualification stage of the 2014 Fifa World Cup was made on 30 July last year, attention rightly focused on the two Group I fixtures that pitted 1998 winners France against reigning champions, Spain.  Tomorrow, at the Vicente Calderon, the first of the two ties will take place. So this is an opportune time to look at La Roja’s record at the home of Atletico Madrid, as well as shine a light on Les Bleu’s outings next to the Rio Manzanares.

With the RFEF being based in Madrid, it will come as no surprise to learn that the Spanish capital has played host to La Seleccion most frequently. Tuesday’s match will be Spain’s 61st full international in Madrid, and whilst the Santiago Bernabeu has hosted the majority of those games, the national side has also played at two of the former stadia of Real Madrid as well as Atleti’s magnificent former home of the Estadio Metropolitano. Tuesday’s fixture will be La Roja’s tenth outing at the Estadio Vicente Calderon and to date, they have yet to lose a match.

Work originally started on the stadium in 1961, but progress was slow due in part to the location, up tight to the east bank of the river and Atleti’s lack of funds. Then, finally on 2 October 1966, the stadium was sort of ready and unofficially opened with a match against Valencia. I say sort of ready, as back in 1966 the main stand was an open bank of seats with a construction site behind it.

Money was still tight and the upper tier of the main stand that hangs over the six-lane M30 Madrid ring-road, was not completed until 1970. At this point the stadium was renamed Estadio Vicente Calderon after the President of the club who had overseen its development. Complete and with a roof to boot, the 62,000 all-seat stadium – the first in Spain – was officially opened in the presence of General Franco and a young Prince Juan Carlos, on 23 May 1972. Goals from Valdez & Garate saw Spain beat Uruguay by two goals to nil.

La Roja returned to the Vicente Calderon four years later for the first leg of their quarter-final tie with reigning European Champions West Germany. The hosts took the lead on 21 minutes with a goal from Santillana, only to be pegged back on the hour when Beer scored for the Germans. The match ended 1-1, but a month later Spain lost 0-2 in Munich and failed to make the finals of the tournament in Yugoslavia.

Spain’s next outing at the Vicente Calderon was in October 1977 when Romania was the visitors for a vital World Cup qualifier for Argentina ’78. Two late goals from Atletico Madrid players all but sealed qualification to Mundial XI. First midfielder Eugenio Leal struck in the 74th minute, before striker Ruben Cano sealed victory with a strike seven minutes from time.

There was another four year wait for international action to return to the south west of Madrid, and this time France was the guest. Not that the international friendly caught the public’s imagination as only 18,000 turned up to watch Spain’s 1-0 victory thanks to Juanito’s 86th minute penalty. France did return to the Vicente Calderon a year later however, but this time La Roja was nowhere to be seen. The stadium had been selected to host three second round group matches at España 82, the twelfth addition of the World Cup. France played Austria in their first group match on 28 June 1982 and Les Bleu’s 1-0 victory hid the fact that this classy French side dominated the fixture. Six days later, France returned to the Calderon and demolished Northern Ireland 4-1, qualifying for a Semi-final tie with West Germany in Sevilla.

Over the next two decades, the Calderon was effectively mothballed from international football, with La Roja paying just two visits in September 1995 and April 2003. The first was for a friendly with Argentina and the hosts prevailed again thanks to goals from Pizzi and Guerrero, before a late Ortega strike for Argentina finished the scoring. The second was a convincing 4-0 victory over Ecuador with goals from Morientes (3) and De Pedro.

Move on two years and qualification for the 2006 World Cup was not as straightforward as the Spaniards had hoped. A series of disappointing draws had left Spain trailing Serbia Montenegro in the table. The Vicente Calderon was selected to host the crucial home fixture with the Serbs in September 2005 and a full house was elated in the 18th minute when Raul pounced to give La Roja the lead. They were silenced however on 68 minutes when Mateja Kezman equalised. The draw favoured the visitors and they automatically qualified for the 2006 tournament in Germany. Spain headed to the play-offs and was drawn against Slovakia. The Calderon was selected again and this time La Roja did not disappoint. Three goals from Luis Garcia and strikes from Morientes and Torres saw the Slovaks beaten 5-1, and Spain had all but qualified for the World Cup.

As part of the RFEF’s centenary celebrations, the Vicente Calderon was chosen to host a friendly with Argentina in 14 November 2009. A packed stadium saw two goals from Xabi Alonso seal a two-one victory, and Iker Casillas make his 100th appearance for La Seleccion. The only blot on the Casillas’ memorable day came when he was beaten by a Lionel Messi penalty on 62 minutes.

So attention turns to Tuesday’s match with France and a vital qualifier for Brazil 2014. Spain has not lost a competitive match on home soil since 2003. Add to that their unbeaten record at the Vicente Calderon and Les Bleu’s are facing Une force formidable. As we now know, France has won on their last two visits to this corner of Madrid, but they were not facing La Furia Roja.

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