12 October 1988
Estadio Ramón Sánchez Pizjuán, Seville
Ref.: Carlo Longhi (ITA)
12 October 1988 was the 75th anniversary of the Spanish FA, and to celebrate they had invited none other than World Cup holders Argentina to Seville for a friendly, or what they also had dubbed Copa de la Real Federación Española de Fútbol (RFEF). It was also a welcome opportunity for new coach Luis Suárez to assess his squad, being only the 2nd match into his reign, just about a month prior to Spain’s first qualifier for Italia’90.
Spain team news
Luis Suárez scrapped the 4-1-2-1-2 diamond formation that he had tried against Yugoslavia, changing to 4-4-1-1, with Bakero connecting midfield and attack, and Roberto and Míchel forming a new central midfield duo.
Chendo had to withdraw from the squad after sustaining an injury a few days before the match. His replacement in the squad was Manuel Jiménez, the Sevilla left back.
Argentina team news
Low season for Argentina, as this was their only fixture between July 1988 and March 1989. They had last been seen in the so-called Bicentennial Gold Cup, held in Australia in July, to which Bilardo had brought a mix of senior internationals and newcomers (no Maradona, for example).
The friendly in Spain saw a return to a more familiar set-up, with Bilardo lining up his team in a 4-3-1-2 formation. This is one of the standard formations in Bilardo’s repertoire, designed for two wide forwards who stretch the opposition defence and create space for Maradona.
Before the game, there had been question marks around the presence of arguably the most distinguished guest of the anniversary, Maradona, who was hampered by a muscular strain. The Argentina team had been training without their captain in the days leading up to the match. Eventually, however, Maradona arrived in the evening 11 October on a private jet paid by the Spanish FA.
Mixed effect from new formation
The workings of the new 4-4-1-1 formation would have been a hot topic on the terraces of Seville this evening.
Unfortunately for Luis Suárez, the formation left an uneven impression. Spain struggled throughout the game to push their wide players and full-backs forward. Begiristain and Martín Vásquez hardly ever found themselves in the attacking third of the pitch. Their instruction to play as wide players in a midfield four involved tracking back – clearly to the detriment of their attacking contributions. Martín Vásquez probably even had more touches on the ball in his own half than in the oppositions’. Spain’s full-backs were cautious about going forward (see below), and Martín Vásquez and Begiristain remained the two most ineffectual performers on the pitch.
One player that seemed to thrive in this system, however, was Míchel. From his central position, Míchel was seeing a lot of the ball and he was arguably also the mind behind almost everything Spain did this evening. Orchestrating Spain’s build-up, Míchel came surprisingly deep to collect the ball, which also invited Argentina to press higher up the pitch in order to close him down. His passing was surprisingly sloppy at times, but he made up for that with some impressive charges though the center, although mostly when Spain were breaking forward. Spain were suffering in the wide areas, but could at times penetrate through the middle.
Argentina’s wide forwards
Argentina looked more comfortable in their 4-3-1-2 wide formation, which also seemed a good choice considering that Spain’s defence was focussed on minimising space in the middle for Maradona. With Spain defending narrowly, wide forwards Caniggia and Calderón were key to Argentina’s attacking play.
Caniggia and Calderón took up very good positions in which they could receive the ball, often in the half-spaces or on the shoulder of the Spanish defence. Caniggia in particular gave Andrinúa and Rekarte a torrid time, showing them a clean pair of heels on several occasions. They were given several opportunities to counter on Spain, in what was a rather open 1st half, and the clever movement and positioning of the two forwards ensured that Argentina always had good options further up the field.
Goals: 1-0 and 1-1
Spain proved that they had real quality when breaking forward, already from the very start of the game. Argentina were looking vulnerable on defensive transitions, and notably often left big gaps in the centre of the field that Spain exploited. This was perhaps a result of Argentina being intent on pressing high up the field, involving both Batista and Giusti. Already in the 7th minute, Spain managed to play their way out of defence (Martín Vasquez, the under-performer!), and a quick counter-attack led by Míchel and Butragueño resulted in a goal.
The Argentinians protested to the linesman that there had been an offside, but the officials apparently made the correct call to let the goal stand. 1-0 to Spain. In fact, Spain would only minutes later have another “goal” ruled out for offside (Butragueño again, after a free kick), where their decision seemed more dubious. Argentina’s defence continued playing some risky offside traps all evening, and could easily have been punished more than once. Libero Brown had a good game in terms of duels won and was a real physical presence behind there, but was also guilty of some questionable positioning and at times defended very deep, offering the Spanish players acres of space to run into in front of the Argentinians’ last man.
The visitors had a few good opportunities themselves, and eventually equalised in the 44th miunute after a free kick. The ball was swung in at the back post, where Ruggeri managed to square it to Caniggia thanks to an acrobatic manoeuvre. Caniggia found himself alone with Zubizarreta, and had an easy job.
While no team had had the upper hand in the 1st half, Spain were the more dominant side after the break. Openings were overall fewer than in the 1st, however, and it ended a 1-1 draw.
Argentina still committed men forward and could be very ambitious in their pressing at times. As the 2nd half unfolded, though, they more and more retreated to inside their own half. Spain’s defenders improved on their marking of Calderón and Caniggia, which also eliminated some of their threat. Bilardo brought on Olarticoechea which gave them more of an attacking threat down the left flank, while Maradona was taken off after 75 minutes, having signalled to the bench that he needed to come off because of his muscular strain.
Spain probably created the two only opportunities of the half: A long shot and long header from Roberto bursting forward from his midfield position. Inroads such as these were probably Roberto’s best contributions in this Spanish team, as he otherwise was far less involved in Spain’s play than Míchel. His aerial ability can however be an asset for Spain (in particular against Rep. og Ireland and Northern Ireland in the qualification). There were more fluidity in the 2nd half that saw both of them coming more inside (to their advantage), but in all honesty the set-up didn’t look to do them any favours as players.
For the last 10 minutes, Luis Suárez subbed on Patxi Salinas (on for Begiristain), meaning that he perhaps hasn’t given up on the idea of playing a predominantly defensive midfielder in his team. Beside the composition of Spain’s midfield, another matter to consider for Luis Suárez would be his choice of full-backs before the start of the Italia’90 campaign. In total, he had so far played dix different players in these two positions: Chendo, Soler, Nando, Quique, Jiménez, Rekarte. No particular player had stood out of these five in the two friendlies, although Chendo, as a long-standing member of the senior squad, probably was a favourite.
1 Zubizarreta 4.9
2 Quique 4.4
3 Rekarte 4.7
4 Andrinúa 4.1
5 Sanchís 7.2
6 Roberto 4.7
7 Bakero 5.3
8 Míchel 7.1
9 Butragueño 5.8
10 Martín Vásquez 3.7
11 Begiristain 4.0
1 Pumpido 4.5
2 Batista 5.8
3 Fabbri 4.8
4 Cuciuffo 5.1
5 Brown 3.9
6 Ruggeri 5.1
7 Caniggia 7.1
8 Giusti 4.1
9 Troglio 4.9
10 Maradona 5.7
11 Calderón 5.7