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The Spanish National Team: A Brief History

A golden era has descended Spanish football. The Spanish national team, also known as La Roja, are currently enjoying the best moment in their footballing history. Having completed consecutive European Championship victories with the 2010 World Cup success in between, this team is now regarded as one of the best in the history of the sport. What is more, their recent success does not look like ending anytime soon with their triumph at this year’s under 21 European Championship.

Not only does Spain have a star studded starting 11, which includes the likes of Xavi, Iniesta, Casillas, Sergio Ramos and David Villa. The current squad has a phenomenal strength in depth and the nation boasts some of the most prestigious young talents such as Isco and Thiago Alcantara.

However, what about the years preceding this golden generation? Spain haven’t always had it all their own way. 


Created in 1920, primarily to compete in that year’s Olympic games, Spain became the 28th nation to play a football match with their opening game of the tournament (a 1-0 win over Denmark) and in that match, Patricio Arabolaza became the first player to score an international goal for Spain. However, Spain ended the Olympics with a silver medal, losing to that years hosts and eventual winners, Belgium. Yet such early promise could not be built upon as the Civil War and World War II ensured that football took a back seat until the 1950 World Cup qualifiers. 

Spanish 'Keeper Ricardo Zamora


Despite not winning a single match during the 1950 World Cup, they finished the tournament fourth. This remained their highest finishing position in a world cup until 2010. The 1950 World Cup finals were conducted in a group format where the four teams that advanced from the original group stages all played each other in a final group. Spain drew with eventual winners Uruguay (2-2) and lost to Sweden (3-1) and Brazil (6-1). Spain failed to qualify for either of the other world cups held during the 1950s. What is more, General Franco refused to allow the national side to travel to the Soviet Union to play the quarterfinal qualifying match. Therefore, the Soviet Union were awarded a walkover victory and Spain failed to qualify for the very first European Nation’s Cup in 1960.


The 60s were a better decade for Spanish football. They qualified for the 1962 World Cup in Chile, although they finished the tournament bottom of their group. However, Spain emerged victorious from the 1964 European Championships that they hosted, beating a strong Hungarian team 2-1 in the final thanks to Marcelino Martinez’s late winner. This was their first international title and would prove to be their only one for 44 years after. This earned them the title of underachievers and as the decades wore on the term proved more and more accurate. Spain failed to qualify from the group stages of the 1966 England World Cup (we all know who won that!). Spain were knocked out of the 1968 Euro quarterfinal by England. This would prove to be Spain’s most successful decade until the turn of the millennium. 

Euro '64 Champions


The 1970s was a quiet decade for Spanish football. Spain failed to qualify for the 1972 European Championships in Belgium, as well as the 1974 World Cup hosted in West Germany and the 1978 European Championships in Yugoslavia. Although they did qualify for the Argentinian World Cup in 1978, Spain failed to progress from the group stages.


Vs England at the 1982 World Cup
Although Spain qualified for the 1980 Italian Euros, they finished bottom of their group and was another unsuccessful tournament. Despite hosting the World Cup in 1982, Spain fared little better. They progressed through the first round of group stages but finished bottom of the second group. The 1984 European Championship proved far more successful for Spain as they reached the final but lost 2-0 to the hosts France. Spain qualified for the 1986 Mexican World Cup, famed for Maradona’s ‘hand of God‘ goal. They qualified through the group stage but lost to Belgium on penalties in the quarter final. Emilio Butragueño was a key figure for Spain and was second top scorer in the tournament, despite only getting to the quarter finals. This period of relative success was cut short as Spain failed to progress to the knockout stages of the 1988 European Championships in Germany. 


Despite finishing top of their group in the 1990 Italian World Cup Spain lost to Yugoslavia in the first knockout round of the tournament. They failed to qualify for the 1992 European Championships but did qualify for the 1994 US World Cup. With a team that included the likes of Josep Guardiola Spain reached the quarter finals of the tournament where they lost 2-1 to Italy. Spain also reached the quarter finals of the 1996 European Championships where they lost to the hosts England on penalties. The 1998 World Cup was a disappointment as Spain failed to make it out of the group stages. 


By the end of the 20th Century Spain was a regular team in the major tournaments. Yet it had still failed to lift a trophy since their success in the 1964 European Championships. However, Spain was now often seeded in the major tournaments, showing how they had progressed as a footballing nation. Despite a strong squad that included Raul, a young Iker Casillas and Josep Guardiola, Spain lost to eventual winners France in the quarter finals of the 2000 Euros. 

Guardiola v Zidane
Despite a strong run, where they won every game in the group stage, Spain lost in the quarter finals again of the 2002 World Cup in Japan. Spain boasted a very strong squad for the 2004 Euros, captained by Raul and with Puyol marshaling defense they had some of the best players in the world. Yet, they still failed to advance from the group stages and the title of underachievers continued to hang above the nation. Spain won their group in the 2006 World Cup but lost to France in the first knockout stage, another disappointing tournament. 

THAT goal from Torres

This would be the last time Spain would fail to win a major tournament to this day. Having won back to back European Championships in 2008 and 2012, with a World Cup triumph in between and a number 1 spot in the FIFA rankings, things have never been better. Also Vicente Del Bosque has arguably the greatest array of talent at his disposal, with a number of the best players in the world. It can be argued that Spain play the best football anywhere in the world with their tiki-taka style and with such a vast amount of talented youth to break through into the Spanish squad I wouldn’t bet against them in the future major tournaments. Despite their recent loss to Brazil in the Confederations Cup final, the future looks bright for La Roja.

The Papers say it all - 2008, 2010, 2012 champions

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