UEFA Group 6



Major changes for Spain (1st seeds) after their early exit in the 1988 Euros, with a new manager in place and several veterans retiring from the team. A new team was emerging led by the generation of Míchel and Butragueño, and were expected to defend the team’s favourite tag in the group. The Republic of Ireland (4th) had also been eliminated from the group stage in the 1988 Euros, but had given an impressive display and Jackie Charlton’s team generally were in the ascendancy. Football aristocrats Hungary (2nd) would probably be their toughest rival in the group, but had seen a small decline in their performances over the last couple of years. Northern Ireland (3rd) could perhaps surprise everyone (again!) and qualify for the World Cup a third time in a row, but it felt like they were going through a rebuilding that wasn’t the finished article yet. Only Malta (5th) were not fancied by anyone at all to challenge for a place in Italia’90. Read more . . .


Match 1: Northern Ireland 3-0 Malta
21 May 1988, Windsor Park (Belfast)
The UEFA section of the 1990 World Cup qualification is up and running even before the European Championships in West Germany: Northern Ireland, who had even previously started their two recent World Cup qualification campaigns at such an early stage, welcomed home to Belfast expected group minnows Malta. There were absentees in both camps: Norman Whiteside for the hosts and influental midfielder Ray Vella for the Maltese. After some hairy moments early on, when forward Busuttil had failed to score after rounding ‘keeper McKnight, the Irish then struck three times in the space of 12 minutes. Inbetween, the visitors had rammed the woodwork once again (at 1-0) through fine libero Buttigieg. Both the host’s strikers got their names on the scoresheet, and eventually they cruised to victory. 

Match 2: Northern Ireland 0-0 Rep. of Ireland
14 September 1988, Windsor Park (Belfast)
Stalemate at Windsor Park, but the guests look the stronger side.

Match 3: Hungary 1-0 Northern Ireland
19 October 1988, Népstadion (Budapest)
NIR withstand pressure for 85 mins, before Vincze breaks the deadlock for Hungary.

Match 4: Spain 2-0 Rep. of Ireland
16 November 1988, Benito Villamarín (Seville)
It was time for Spain to make their group bow, and they had invited to Seville the Republic of Ireland in an anticipated clash. The hosts had failed to win either of their two preparatory matches under new manager Suárez, but they came in a 5-3-2 which emphasized on a solid backline. They were also clinical in swift transitions, and the visitors, despite operating with captain Moran as a defensive midfield shield in front of the two centre-backs, were ultimately undone courtesy of second half strikes from the Spanish attack force. A couple of excellent individual performances, most notably from Andrinúa and Míchel in the home camp. An injury-ravaged Irish team couldn’t quite match their opponents on this occasion. 

Match 5: Malta 2-2 Hungary
11 December 1988, Ta’Qali (Attard)
Travelling to the Mediterranean island, the Hungarians would’ve been expecting to follow up their fine home win against Northern Ireland with another win. However, the domestic footballing scene had been rocked by a bribery scandal, and while investigation was ongoing, several national team regulars had been left out. The depleted visiting select struggled against aggressive hosts, who were pleased to welcome back captain Ray Vella. Hungary were twice in front, and Kiprich’ penalty on 57 minutes had looked to win them the game, only for the lively Busuttil to notch his second just upon full time. A stunning result for Malta; a major set-back for the Hungarians’ hopes of reaching  a fourth successive World Cup.

Match 6: Spain 4-0 Northern Ireland
21 December 1988, Estadio Ramón Sánchez Pizjuán (Seville)
In the injury absence of star defender Sanchís, Spain reverted from 5-3-2 back to 4-4-2, with Górriz keeping his place in the team alongside impressive libero Andrinúa. Northern Ireland had to make do without the suspended Danny Wilson, who had picked up bookings in each of their first two matches. Billy Bingham had relegated striker Quinn to the bench, giving Kevin Wilson the chance to accompany Clarke up front. They were no real match for the Spanish, even if it took the hosts 30 minutes to open the scoring (Rogan own goal). Three goals in just over ten second half minutes further damaged the Northern Irish’ goal difference, whilst Spain had got off to an excellent qualification start. 

Match 7: Malta 0-2 Spain
22 January 1989, Ta’ Qali (Attard)
A January contest in Malta saw Spain return back home with the points after a win which in size was probably according to what had been expected by most pundits beforehand. The Maltese had proved against Hungary that they were no mugs on home soil, although they were up against considerably stronger opposition this time around. They battled well again, although they fell behind to a penalty which Míchel powerfully struck home. A Begiristain goal early in the second half looked to have settled the matter, though the visitors had to endure a sending-off for Sanchís 16 minutes from time. Malta failed to capitalize, and three wins had yielded a goal difference of 8-0 for the group favourites. 

Match 8: Northern Ireland 0-2 Spain
8 February 1989, Windsor Park (Belfast)
Cautious approach and corners give Spain the win.

Match 9: Hungary 0-0 Rep. of Ireland
8 March 1989, Népstadion (Budapest)
Lacklustre performance by a reshaping Hungary, the Irish not much better.

Match 10: Spain 4-0 Malta
23 March 1989, Estadio Benito Villamarín (Seville)
No one looks capable of denying Spain a place in next year’s World Cup. They were hardly expected to struggle in this home fixture, and though they almost went the entire first half before scoring, the margin of victory told a tale of difference in class. Suárez once again showed his tactical flexibility, as Spain returned to four at the back. Míchel and Manolo were the two stand-out performers, as both also registered two goals each. Malta had lost midfielder Degeorgi for a second bookable offence right on the stroke of half-time, and 10 v 11 in the final 45 minutes, they struggled for organization. Cluett his team’s best player. 

Match 11: Hungary 1-1 Malta
12 April 1989, Népstadion (Budapest)
Having sensationally dropped a point in the corresponding fixture away from home, the Hungarians could ill afford anything but a resounding home win this time around. As for Malta, they had not quite set the group alight, though that solitary point had come off the back of a spirited performance. They were without the suspended Degeorgi, whilst the Hungarians had relegated regular starter Kiprich to the bench for starting striker Boda. Malta played on the counter, and they went ahead as early as the seventh minute through that man Busuttil. It was the Italy based player’s third of the campaign. The home side drew level from the spot early in the second half, but failed to raise their game, and there were plenty of opportunities for Malta to break. Malta were probably the lesser pleased party by the full-time whistle, even if goalscorer Boda hit the bar in injury time. 

Match 12: Malta 0-2 Northern Ireland
26 April 1989, Ta’ Qali (Attard)
The Ulstermen could’ve been forgiven for thinking they were up for a very difficult away game, considering how the Maltese had picked yet another point off Hungary recently. Thus, they approached the game in a cautious manner, with midfielders McCreery and Sanchez sitting relatively deep. In fact, they were playing with four central players in the middle, even if both Wilsons, Danny (right) and Kevin, were inverted wide men. It was a professional job by Northern Ireland, who triumphed by two clear goals thanks to Clarke and young midfielder O’Neill (substitute). They did not allow the hosts quick breaks, and the away win was thoroughly deserved in the end.

Match 13: Rep. of Ireland 1-0 Spain
26 April 1989, Lansdowne Road (Dublin)
Brilliant battling display secure Rep. of Ireland their first win.

Match 14: Rep. of Ireland 2-0 Malta
28 May 1989, Lansdowne Road (Dublin)
The Republic were looking to this their second of three successive home fixtures to build further momentum following that excellent win against Spain the previous month. With the game taking place only two days after a crucial, title-decisive match in the English first division, with a total of six Liverpool and Arsenal players in their squad, would this carry any significance into such an important qualifier? You couldn’t just ‘turn up’ and then expect two points, even if lowly Malta were the opposition. The plucky away side stood in a 4-5-1 formation, doing their utmost to deny the Irish space, but they struggled to cope with the physically superior hosts in the air, where Cascarino was such a handful for his marker (Silvio) Vella. Houghton and Moran got the goals, but Ireland were not at their best. 

Match 15: Rep. of Ireland 2-0 Hungary
4 June 1989, Lansdowne Road (Dublin)
After successive home wins in recent weeks, there’s a real buzz again around the Irish national team, which had featured for the first time in a major international tournament through its participation in West Germany last summer. Should they defeat the Hungarians, they would take a major step towards qualification yet again. Whelan was out through suspension, but Townsend had come into the side, and would prove himself a capable replacement. McGrath in the first half and then a late Cascarino goal were enough; the Hungarians rarely threatened Bonner. Poor Zoltán Bognár, whose task it is to try and deal with Cascarino in the air. Hungary welcome experienced campaigner Garaba back, but they are unable to break down the hosts’ rear guard. In the end, it is a well deserved victory for the boys in green and white. 

Match 16: Northern Ireland 1-2 Hungary
6 September 1989, Windsor Park (Belfast)
The Ulstermen show real commitment, but Hungary win by individual brilliance.

Match 17: Rep. of Ireland 3-0 Northern Ireland
11 October 1989. Lansdowne Road (Dublin)
It is another big occasion on Ireland as its two nations come head to head once again. The visitors are just also-rans in this qualification, realizing that they won’t be reaching a third successive World Cup, but they find great motivation in trying to deny the Republic second place in the group behind leaders Spain. McGrath was a big absence for the hosts, though they could fortunately call upon Moran, who had not been in action at club level during the previous weekend. Northern Ireland sported George Dunlop, based in Scottish football, in goal, and influental centre-half McClelland was still out injured. Donaghy was back, though. Still, the home side would tear the visitors apart, and the cushion of three goals by the full-time whistle all but ensured the Republic of Ireland their first World Cup participation. Whelan, Cascarino and Houghton were the scorers in this latest All-Ireland clash. 

Match 18: Hungary 2-2 Spain
11 October 1989. Népstadion (Budapest)
Hungary draw with all-out attack, as Spain qualify for Italia’90.

Match 19: Spain 4-0 Hungary
15 November 1989. Estadio Ramón Sánchez Pizjuán (Seville)
The hosts were already through, while just theory kept the Hungarians’ dream of qualification alive. Spain, so strong throughout this campaign, especially at home, would line up their third successive 4-0 home win, even if manager Suárez had decided to rest some regulars in order to give important playing time to others: Andrinúa, Roberto and Vázquez were all rested from kick-off, with Juanito, (Luis) Milla and Fernando coming into the side. The Hungarians had varied a lot during the qualification, and they were never seriously in the hunt here. Spain would not always display their slick, attacking-brand of football, but their rapid counters were too much for the Hungarians. Manolo got his fifth of the qualification, whilst newcomers Juanito and Fernando both got in on the goalscoring act, too.

Match 20: Malta 0-2 Rep. of Ireland
15 November 1989. Ta’ Qali (Attard)
The visitors were all but through to the World Cup already, but with a minor theoretical chance of Hungarian progress still there, Jackie Charlton took no chances in his team selection whatsoever. There was an injury to rock-hard centre-back McCarthy, providing the experienced O’Leary, now he’s back on speaking terms with the manager, with another starting opportunity. With Townsend so prolific in his previous performances, even the presence of Whelan could not oust him from the side. Malta rounded off the qualification like they had started: Without suspended skipper Ray Vella. The several thousand travelling Irish supporters made sure that the visitors enjoyed the majority of the vocal backing, and ultimately (rare) goals from John Aldridge, one a penalty, made absolutely sure of Irish World Cup participation. There were some scenes by the end of the game. 

Final table

2Rep. of Ireland852110212
4N. Ireland82156125


Spain had been the bookies’ favourites to win the group, and fulfilled expectations. They won their first five matches, by which time they already looked destined to qualify for Italia’90. They were outfought in Dublin, but did in reality have little trouble to keep off Hungary in the two deciders that were lined up for them.

The Republic of Ireland ousted World Cup regulars Hungary and N. Ireland to qualify for their first ever tournament. They were slow starters, but hit back with one of the performances of the group when they beat Spain in Dublin 1-0. Essential home wins against Hungary and N. Ireland followed, although they weren’t as dominant in these matches as one might suspect.

Hungary endured a torrid qualification campaign, where the calamities started with the draw in Malta, as Mezey found many of his best players suspended by the authorities because of an ongoing investigation. His replacement Bicskei did never really find a good shape for the team, nor the right players. An uninspiring win in Belfast set them on track for two possible late deciders against Spain, but even though they managed a draw in Budapest, they were outclassed in Seville. Star players like Détári and Kiprich never performed consistently and the team just didn’t look ready for a World Cup this time around.

As for Northern Ireland, they would have wanted a stronger campaign. Having got off to a fine opening win against Malta, their undoing was the lack of goals. Whiteside’s consolation strike against Hungary at home was their sole goal in six against the three teams which finished above them. The home draw against neighbours Republic of Ireland was probably the pick of their results. The Ulstermen will as a result be missing out on their first World Cup since ’78.

Malta probably exceeded expectations by taking two points in draws against once mighty Hungary. They also managed to show along the way that they are no longer the push overs that they used to be, and a lot of credit should go to the West German coach. Some of their players had seen good progress during the campaign, and with a relatively young average age, they could be looking to improve further next time around.


Total number of players used: 129
Total number of players including unused substitutes: 166
Ever-presents (720 mins): 6 (Zubizarreta, Jiménez, (Péter) Disztl, Galea, Buttigieg, Busuttil)
Leading goalscorer: Míchel and Manolo (both Spain) 5
Yellow/red cards: 40/2

Goalscorers (47)

5 goals
Manolo, Míchel (3 pens) (Spain)

3 goals
Carmel Busuttil, Emilio Butragueño (Spain)

2 goals
Attila Pintér, István Vincze (Hungary), Colin Clarke (Northern Ireland), John Aldridge (1 pen), Tony Cascarino, Ray Houghton (Rep of Ireland)

1 goal
Imre Boda (pen), György Bognár, József Kiprich, Kálmán Kovács (Hungary), Michael O’Neill, Steve Penney, Jimmy Quinn, Norman Whiteside (Northern Ireland), Paul McGrath, Kevin Moran, Ronnie Whelan (Rep of Ireland), Genar Andrinúa, Txiki Begiristain, Fernando, Juanito, Julio Salinas, Roberto (Spain) ¹

¹ Roberto’s goal is often refered to as an own goal by Northern Ireland’s Alan McDonald

2 own goals
Anton Rogan (Northern Ireland) v Spain, Míchel (Spain) v Rep of Ireland

Top 20 ratings list

1 Ray Houghton (Rep of Ireland) 7,30 (8 apps)
2 Míchel (Spain) 7,26 (8 apps)
3 Ronnie Whelan (Rep of Ireland) 7,25 (6 apps)
4 Rafael Martín Vázquez (Spain) 7,11 (7 apps)
5 Manolo (Spain) 7,10 (7 apps)
6 Genar Andrinúa (Spain) 7,10 (6 apps)
7 Tony Cascarino (Rep of Ireland) 7,08 (8 apps)
8 Paul McGrath (Rep of Ireland) 7,08 (6 apps)
9 Mick McCarthy (Rep of Ireland) 7,02 (5 apps)
10 Emilio Butragueño (Spain) 6,94 (7 apps)
11 Chris Morris (Rep of Ireland) 6,92 (5 apps)
12 Alberto Górriz (Spain) 6,92 (4 apps)
13 József Kiprich (Hungary) 6,90 (4 apps)
14 Mal Donaghy (Northern Ireland) 6,87 (7 apps)
15 Quique Flores (Spain) 6,86 (5 apps)
16 Manuel Sanchís (Spain) 6,85 (7 apps)
17 Allen McKnight (Northern Ireland) 6,84 (5 apps)
18 Manuel Jiménez (Spain) 6,83 (8 apps)
19 Nigel Worthington (Northern Ireland) and Roberto (Spain) 6,82 (7 apps)

This Post Has One Comment

  1. harpul

    Fantastic post!

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