Sunday, October 30, 2011

When Spain used to get the nose broken

July 9, 1994. Spain got defeated in the quarter finals of the FIFA World Cup against Italy and, once more, the dreams of the Spanish people faded away and the image of the game were the tears of Luis Enrique showing his broken nose to the referee. The game was in the extra time and in the last desperate attack of the Spanish NT looking for the draw, Mauro Tassotti hit with the elbow Luis Enrique's nose inside the box in what could have been a last minute penalty to send the match to the extra time. But the Hungarian referee Sandor Puhl did not see the action and Spain had to pack the luggage.

This World Cup was seen in Spain with certain illusion. The Spanish NT had not been able to play the Euro 1992, the last big continental tournament missed by this team. The Quinta del Buitre had been the core of the Spanish team since the World Cup 1986, but the failure in the qualifiers for the Euro 92 and the success of a young generation of players in the Olympic Games of Barcelona 92, made the new coach, Javier Clemente, change the face of this team. Players like Luis Enrique, Albert Ferrer, "Pitu" Abelardo, Jorge Otero, Josep Guardiola or Santi Cañizares entered in the squad to refresh the team. Aside the "gold generation", Clemente did not hesitate to trust in other young players like Julen Guerrero and Sergi.

Luis Enrique, Guardiola, Ferrer and Abelardo among others in Barcelona'92

The expectatives were high. The new and talented faces were a good reason to believe in this team. The prestige of the veterans was pretty high too. Some of them had been shining with Barcelona in the recent years in the so called "Dream Team". We refer to players like Andoni Zubizarreta, Andoni Goikoetxea or Jose Mari Bakero, along with other talented players of the Spanish football like Fernando Hierro, Miquel Angel Nadal or Rafa Alkorta. Among them, the main pieces of quality were in the boots of the Atlético Madrid player, José Luis Caminero.

However, the debate around the team was the day by day. While the overall opinion considered that the Spanish team had enough talent to play the nice and passing football proposed by the Quinta del Buitre and the Dream Team in the previous nine years in La Liga, Javier Clemente was part of the old school of Basque football, more direct football friendly. While the general opinion made a bet for a more aesthetic style, Javier Clemente built the team from the back and his lineups used to have usual central backs like Nadal or Hierro (even both at the same time) protecting the midfield. As a consequence of it, usual demands of the fans for this position, like Josep Guardiola, were usually out of the first XI.

In one way or another, the first steps of the Spanish team during the World Cup were not bad. Despite the initial bad game against South Korea and the unexpected 2-2. Spain grew during the tournament and showed a nice image against Germany (1-1) and Bolivia (3-1). The extraordinary victory on the Swiss team (3-0) made the fans believe in the possibilities of this team. In the quarter finals, Roberto Baggio's Italy was the rival. Since 1986 and the defeat of Spain against Belgium in the penalties, there was a growing sense of curse among the Spanish fans. Now there was a good chance to finish with it. Spain was a rising team and Italy had disappointed so far. Italy had qualified as one of the best third in the group stage and needed an extra time to eliminate Nigeria in the Round of 16. Italy seemed to be far from their best version.

The game was tight, intense and beautiful. Spain probably played the best game of the entire tournament. The initial goal of Dino Baggio and the power of the Italian team did not make the Spanish team surrender. In the early minutes of the second half, Caminero tied the game and Spain played their best minutes of the tournament. There is an action that is kept in the retinas of the Spanish people. At some point of the second half, in the decisive moments of the match, a long ball left the striker Julio Salinas alone... it was him and the semifinals of a World Cup, between them, Gianluca Pagliuca. Julio Salinas was famous for making difficult the easiest things and easy the impossible... but this was too easy. Salinas had lots of options, but chose the worse to kick the ball on Pagliuca's legs. Just a few minutes later, Roberto Baggio found himself in a similar situation, but the legendary Italian forward dribbled Zubizarreta with class to score the final 2-1 for Italy.

And it is true. It was a penalty on Luis Enrique. Tassotti elbowed the nose of the Spanish forward, but the referee did not see the action. Anger, frustration, sadness... This action just reinforced the feeling of the curse. It was a way to put into an image the feelings of many people. The day after, the covers of the Spanish newspapers reflected Luis Enrique showing his broken nose to the referee in a useless and desperate situation. Useless, desperate and cursed. But Spain was out.

Many years passed since then. Spain kept failing in more or less similar situations for years and years. In the summer of 2008, Spain faced Italy in the penalties of the Euro. Once more, Spain played one of their best games in the tournament, but the constant attacks were useless and the match reached the penalties. The so called "curse of the quarter finals" was in everyone's heads. Everyone's heads. When Cesc Fàbregas scored the winning goal of the penalties, Spain broke that invisible wall. Spain was in the semifinals, but the most important, Spain broke the curse forever. When the semifinals game started, Spain knew that they had no limits. Since then, Spain has won an Euro and a World Cup.

One of the images of this weekend has been the nice gesture of Luis Enrique and Mauro Tassotti shaking hands in the last AS Roma-AC Milan. The broken nose of Luis Enrique is not a symbol anymore and, if it is, it is the symbol of past times. Now this picture of Tassotti and Luis Enrique shaking hands only make people recall that there was a time when Spain used to get the nose broken in the big tournaments. Today, Spain is the World champion.

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