=============================================================================== S P A I N Fernando Rodriguez Pereyra =============================================================================== Spain's first official international match was played in 1920 in the Olympic Games held in Antwerp, and the team went on to take the silver medal. Spain missed the first World Cup in 1930 because they couldn't afford to get to Uruguay for the tournament and therefore their first World Cup was in 1934 where they were eliminated by Italy in the quarter-finals. In 1938 Spain was engaged in civil war, so their next appearance in World Cup finals was in 1950, where they defeated England for the first time in their history and finished in 4th place. They failed to qualify for the next two World Cups, but in 1962 they had their best team ever with the likes of Di Stefano, Gento and other members of the all conquering Real Madrid team. However, they were placed in a group with Brazil and Czechoslovakia (the eventual finalists) and were knocked out in the first round. Two years later, they made up for this disappointment by beating USSR in the final of the European Championship, but they were again handed a tough group (Argentina, West Germany and Switzerland) in the 1966 finals and failed to progress from the first round. There followed another 12 year wait before Spain qualified again in 1978, and incredibly, they failed to progress from a group containing Brazil, Austria and Sweden, but in 1982, Spain hosted the World Cup finals and hopes were high that they could finally put their underachievement on a World stage firmly behind them. Spain's group looked fairly straightforward as it contained Honduras, Yugoslavia and Northern Ireland, but it wouldn't turn out that way. After beating Yugoslavia 2-1 and disappointingly drawing 1-1 with Honduras, Spain needed to draw with Northern Ireland in their final match to top the group and have an easier group in the second phase. However, it was not to be and to cries of disbelief, Gerry Armstrong scored for Northern Ireland and Spain were in a second phase group containing West Germany and England with only the top team qualifying for the semi-finals. Having lost the first game 2-1 to West Germany and the seen West Germany hold England to a 0-0 draw, Spain were eliminated before they played the final group match against England who they held to a 0-0 draw, so disappointment for the Spanish fans again. Two years later, Spain managed to reach the final of the European Championship, playing some sparkling football along the way, but a Platini inspired France were too strong in the final winning 2-0. The 1986 World Cup in Mexico was an up and down affair for Spain where they competed in a first round group with Brazil, Northern Ireland and Algeria. The first game against Brazil was a controversial affair because Spain had a shot which came down off the underside of the bar and crossed the line, but the goal was not given and Brazil ran out 1-0 victors. Spain won their remaining 2 games, including a 2-1 victory over Northern Ireland to take revenge for the defeat 4 years earlier, to qualify for the next phase in second place. Here they met the most exciting team in the tournament, Denmark, and absolutely destroyed them. At half-time the score was 1-1 with no hint of the demolition job that was to come in the second half. After the break, though, Spain's star striker Emilio Butragueno found that everything he touched turned to gold and in scoring 4 goals, he helped the Spanish run out 5-1 winners. Spain were now being talked about as possible winners of the trophy, particularly as their quarter final match was against a solid but unspectacular Belgian side. However, Spain again flattered to deceive and were held 1-1 by the Belgians who went on to take the match 5-4 in a penalty shootout. Onto 1990 and Spain were drawn in what looked a tricky group with Belgium, Uruguay and South Korea. The first game against Uruguay was a nervy affair with both teams missing chances and the final score was 0-0. The second game against South Korea looked an easy win on paper, but Spain didn't impose themselves until the second half, finally winning 3-1. Gaining revenge against Belgium, 2-1 in the last game meant that they qualified for the round of 16 as group winners. This paired them with Yugoslavia and in a agme which either side could have won in normal time, Spain again regretted missed opportunities as they lost 2-1 in extra time. Two years ago, Spain won the Olympic football tournament in Barcelona by beating Poland 3-2 in the final, and a number of the players from that team make up the team that Spain will field in this year's World Cup finals. In June 1992, Javier Clemente became the new coach of the Spanish team replacing Vicente Miera who was in charge when Spain beat Albania 3-0 in the first of their qualifying games. When Clemente took over, he made drastic changes to the team, the "quinta del Buitre" (Michel, Butragueno & Co.) was discarded and he tried to blend experience with young blood from the Olympic gold medal winning team. It was a tough start because of the team's inexperience and youth, and they had a lot of bad luck in their first two qualifying games in Latvia and Northern Ireland but managed to come away from both games with goalless draws. The home match against the Republic of Ireland also produced a goalless draw, which wasn't a bad result as Spain played most of the game with 10 men. After good home victories against Latvia and Northern Ireland, Spain went to Denmark and after having 2 good penalty appeals turned down, they lost 1-0. Spain then won their next four games including a superb 3-1 victory in Dublin against the Republic of Ireland, which left them needing to avoid defeat at home to Denmark to qualify for the finals. Their cause wasn't helped when goalkeeper Zubizaretta was sent off early in the game, but Spain still managed to take the lead and the replacement goalkeeper was quite superb pulling off a series of heroic saves, particularly in the second half. Clemente has changed the national side from a technically gifted side with very little strength under pressure to a side who are far stronger mentally with very courageous players. This is similar to the Spanish style of the 1930's and 1950's. Spain have been drawn in a relatively tough group with Germany, Bolivia and South Korea, but they should progress to the second phase without too much difficulty. From here, anything less than a place in the quarter finals is a failure for this team, but with this team they could be a very dangerous outsider and go even further.