Which two nations would qualify for Italia'90 from group 6? Difficult to look beyond Spain. They had lost a few experienced heads, but there was a feeling that a new generation was needed to take them forward, and they would always be natural favourites. Could the Republic of Ireland reproduce their impressive performances in the 1988 Euros? In that case, they would in fact be the most likely team to progress along with Spain to the World Cup. Football aristocrats Hungary would probably be their hardest competitor, but based on recent performances, the Republic had a somewhat higher level of performance. Northern Ireland could perhaps surprise everyone 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 were not fancied by anyone to challenge for a place in Italia'90.
21 May 1988, Windsor Park (Belfast)
Northern Ireland 3-0 Malta
NIR escape early scare from lively Busuttil, then score three before h-t.
14 September 1988, Windsor Park (Belfast)
Northern Ireland 0-0 Republic of Ireland
Stalemate at Windsor Park, but the guests look the stronger side.
19 October 1988, Népstadion (Budapest)
Hungary 1-0 Northern Ireland
NIR withstand pressure for 85 mins, before Vincze breaks the deadlock for Hungary.
16 November 1988, Benito Villamarín (Seville)
Spain 2-0 Republic of Ireland
Fast and furious in Seville as Spain hit the Irish for two second half goals.
11 December 1988, Ta'Qali (Attard)
Malta 2-2 Hungary
Busuttil strikes twice as depleted Hungary are held in Valletta.
21 December 1988, Estadio Ramón Sánchez Pizjuán (Seville)
Spain 4-0 Northern Ireland
Northern Ireland hold out for 30 minutes but fall apart following three strikes in quick succession after the break.
22 January 1989, Ta' Qali (Attard)
Malta 0-2 Spain
Without ever reaching their pinnacle, Spain without too much bother see off spirited Malta.
8 February 1989, Windsor Park (Belfast)
Northern Ireland 0-2 Spain
Cautious approach and corners give Spain the win.
8 March 1989, Népstadion (Budapest)
Hungary 0-0 Republic of Ireland
Lacklustre performance by a reshaping Hungary, the Irish not much better.
23 March 1989, Estadio Benito Villamarín (Seville)
Spain 4-0 Malta
Spain easily deal with ten man Malta, who were all set about damage limitation in the second half after being reduced to ten men on the stroke of half time.
12 April 1989, Népstadion (Budapest)
Hungary 1-1 Malta
Malta left with a very well deserved point, and could have punished the Hungarians on the break even further.
26 April 1989, Ta' Qali (Attard)
Malta 0-2 Northern Ireland
Professional job by the Ulstermen.
26 April 1989, Lansdowne Road (Dublin)
Republic of Ireland 1-0 Spain
Brilliant battling display secure Ireland their first win.
28 May 1989, Lansdowne Road (Dublin)
Republic of Ireland 2-0 Malta
A less enthusiastic Ireland still deal comfortably with negative Malta.
4 June 1989, Lansdowne Road (Dublin)
Republic of Ireland 2-0 Hungary
Win gives the Republic of Ireland a great advantage over Hungary in the hunt for second place.
6 September 1989, Windsor Park (Belfast)
Northern Ireland 1-2 Hungary
The Ulstermen show real commitment, but Hungary win by individual brilliance.
11 October 1989. Lansdowne Road (Dublin)
Republic of Ireland 3-0 Northern Ireland
Big win all but sees the Republic through to Italy.
11 October 1989. Népstadion (Budapest)
Hungary 2-2 Spain
Hungary draw with all-out attack, as Spain qualify for Italia'90.
15 November 1989. Estadio Ramón Sánchez Pizjuán (Seville)
Spain 4-0 Hungary
Another comfortable home win to round up Spain's campaign.
15 November 1989. Ta' Qali (Attard)
Malta 0-2 Republic of Ireland
The Irish dominant from start to finish.
|2||Rep. of Ireland||8||5||2||1||10||2||12|
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
Carmel Busuttil (Malta)
Emilio Butragueño (Spain)
Attila Pintér (Hungary)
István Vincze (Hungary)
Colin Clarke (Northern Ireland)
John Aldridge (Rep of Ireland)
Tony Cascarino (Rep of Ireland)
Ray Houghton (Rep of Ireland)
Imre Boda (Hungary)
György Bognár (Hungary)
József Kiprich (Hungary)
Kálmán Kovács (Hungary)
Michael O'Neill (Northern Ireland)
Steve Penney (Northern Ireland)
Jimmy Quinn (Northern Ireland)
Norman Whiteside (Northern Ireland)
Paul McGrath (Rep of Ireland)
Kevin Moran (Rep of Ireland)
Ronnie Whelan (Rep of Ireland)
Genar Andrinúa (Spain)
Txiki Begiristain (Spain)
Julio Salinas (Spain)
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)