DONETSK: Spain’s Iberian date with Euro 2012 destiny against Portugal demonstrates just how far they and the European Championship have come together writes KEIR RADNEDGE.
Only 17 nations, little more than half UEFA’s membership at the time, entered the inaugural event back in 1958. Spain were one but they did not last long in what was then a two-leg knockout tournament.
Early on they were drawn against the Soviet Union at a time when politics of the Cold War were inextricably confused with post-Civil War bitterness and mistrust. Spanish dictator General Francisco Franco refused to contemplate the idea of the Soviet national anthem ringing out over Spanish soil . . . and so Spain withdrew.
The contradiction to outsiders was that Real Madrid, Spain’s finest international ambassadors in that era, had been playing European competition for four years.
True, that was in an era when UEFA split the European Cup draw to restrict the risk of political complications in days when many western countries would not even contemplate issuing entry visas to sportsmen from East Germany or, even more frightening, Chinese-allied Albania.
Hence, when Spain offered to host the 1964 finals it was on an express undertaking that all the diplomatic niceties would be observed. The Soviet Union reached the four-team finals as did one of their communist satellite states, Hungary.
Spain defeated Hungary in their first Euro semi-final and then the Soviets by 2-1 in the Final. Franco was there to hand over the cup. No-one dared speculate on whether he would still have been in his seat in the VIP box in the Estadio Bernabeu place had the Soviets won, instead.
Twenty years passed before Spain reached the semi-finals again, in 1984. Then they beat Denmark on penalties in France only to lose the final 2-0 to their Michel Platini-inspired hosts. A further 24 years passed before they progressed to that point again, defeating Russia before going on to defeat Germany 1-0 in the final in Vienna.
Hence, for what it may be worth, when Spain reach the semi-finals, they also go on to reach the final. Spain – and history – are favourites to repeat themselves.
= = = =