España 82 gave the world an abundance of memories; from the iconic showdown between Brazil and Italy to France's Le Carré Magique, it was a summer not many forget. However, amid the fading recollections, forgotten it has almost become; that of the host nation's showing 36 years ago.
Today, maybe more so only a handful of years ago, La Roja are seen as the ultimate international footballing machine; a side that possesses the flair of the South Americans while also harbouring the efficiency of their European roots. They are a superpower who altered the face of the game through world dominance in the most beautiful way. However, that has not always been the case.
In 1982, Spain, as an entity, was still coming to terms with their reconnection with democracy. Francisco Franco, a general who ruled as a military dictator from 1939, after the Nationalist victory in the Spanish Civil War, until his death in 1975, had descended the country back into a time of the iron fist, and it had taken its toll on almost all walks of life.
Real Madrid, the most successful football team in European history, had endured a 16-year spell without a crown following the last of their six trophies being clinched in 1966. During that time, a Spanish domestic side had appeared in the final of a continental competition only twice; losing both - with Atlético Madrid coming off second best to Bayern Munich in 1974, and city neighbours Los Blancos tasting defeat at the hands of Bob Paisley’s Liverpool in Paris seven years later.
And while the Cup Winners’ Cup told only a slightly better tale; with Barcelona triumphing in 1979 as well as during the World Cup year of 1982, and Valencia’s penalty shoot-out victory over Arsenal in 1980 the only successes following the tournament's inception. In the UEFA Cup, meanwhile, Athletic Club's runners-up spot in 1977 was the only glimpse of prominence in Europe's second-tier cup competition during the decade leading up to the World Cup.
Leading into the competition, La Roja had just a solitary star to their name, and, like fellow 'footballing superpower' England, it had come on home soil via the 1964 European Championships.
However, Mundial 82 was an opportunity for Spain to reclaim their former glories; to prove to the world, the sleeping giant had awoken once more; to demonstrate how democracy had prevailed and that the nation was stronger for it. Or, so it was meant to be.
Drawn into Group 5, the hosts would be based in Valencia and Zaragoza and would attempt to weave their way through to the latter rounds by overcoming Honduras, Yugoslavia and Northern Ireland. Although Miljan Miljanić’s Yugoslavia, who had qualified ahead of Italy during the preliminary rounds, were seen as dark horses. Nevertheless, the Uruguayan-born coach and former four-time European Cup winner with Real Madrid, José Santamaría, was the man to topple all those who stood before him.
Heading into the opening tie, the ex-central defender was hesitant to assume victory; however, exuded a quiet confidence. But just eight minutes into the contest with Honduras, the Los Blancos legend's scepticism became clear as Héctor Zelaya put the Central Americans into the lead. For almost an hour La Roja carried out an assault on the opposition area without tangible reward, until Roberto López Ufarte's penalty allowed Espana to spare their blushes for another day. Although, little did they know, that day was not far away.
The much-feared Yugoslavia was next; an encounter that would provide one of the most free-flowing, awe-inspiring matches of the entire summer, but also one that was marred by controversy. Donned in their all-white strip, the XI from the Balkans dominated the early exchanges, and in the eighth-minute defender Ivan Gudelj, hailed as the “Beckenbauer of Zmijavci” by his native press, headed past Luis Arconada to give the visiting nation a deserved lead.
However, minutes later, a collision between Miguel Ángel Alonso and Velimir Zajec as the former attempted to surge towards the Yugoslavian box changed the face of the contest, and indeed the entire affair. Despite the contact clearly starting and ending outside of the area, Danish referee Henning Lund-Sørensen saw fit to award the host nation a penalty; much to the dismay of Miljanić and his men. The anger portrayed from the apparent culprits was increased even more so shortly following, as after Juanito initially put the spot-kick wide, the Scandinavian official allowed a retake, which the Real Madrid forward calmly slotted home at the second time of asking.
Valencia Midfielder Enrique Saura, on his home turf, proved the hero shortly after the hour mark as he bundled home the winner, leaving those in all-white undeservedly empty-handed following their incredible contribution to a scintillating tie. However, on that evening, Spain topped Group 5 following a draw between Northern Ireland and Honduras in Zaragoza.
The Green and White Army became all that stood between España and the chance to find a route to glory as group winners; however, Gerry Armstrong's sensational strike past the helpless Arconada in the 47th minutes was the only roadblock needed. Yugoslavia had narrowly beaten Honduras the evening prior, but it was not enough to see either side through, and Spain, embarrassed by the footballing unknown of the Ulstermen, were faced with the gruelling challenge of tackling West Germany and England in the Second Round.
“It is sad and lamentable that our goalkeeper played three games without even touching the ball and in the three attacks against us they scored three goals", Santamaria pleaded after the defeat to Northern Ireland.
"We did not play a lesser game than we played against Yugoslavia. We dominated from beginning to end and had the misfortune that in one counter-attack a goal was scored against us.”
However, despite having the opportunity to overcome two former winners on home soil, La Roja's journey all but came to an end as Arconada fumbled against Die Mannschaft to allow Pierre Littbaski the chance to lash home from close range en route to a 2-1 victory at the capacity-brimmed Estadio Santiago Bernabéu.
Days later, inside the same arena, the two great underachievers of international football, Spain and England, limped out of the World Cup via a goalless stalemate; one remaining unbeaten throughout, and the other having only secured one victory in five matches in front of their own crowd. It was a disaster.
The following years would see Miguel Muñoz reclaim, as he described, the missing fury of La Furia Roja; reaching the 1984 European Championships final, only to taste defeat against host nation France; as they had done in Spain two years prior.
But on a grander scale, España never again suffered the same embarrassment as that of 1982, even when taking into account their showing in Brazil four years ago.
And unlike their former underachieving comrades, England, the harrowing memories of the self-hosted tournament lived on through Vicente del Bosque, who would go on to assure the once cast aside 'superpower' was indeed remembered for its successes, rather than their inadequate reputation of years gone by.