Ten man Spain win comfortably in the end


0-1 (17) Míchel (pen.)
0-2 (52) Begiristain

1990 World Cup Qualification
UEFA Group 6
Video: Full game
Sun. 22 January 1989
Kick-off: –
Ta’ Qali Stadium, Valletta
Att: 15,797
Ref.: David Syme (SCO)
L 1: Andrew Kowalczyk (SCO)
L 2: William Crombie (SCO)


3Northern Ireland4112353
4Rep of Ireland2011021

This would be the very first encounter between the two countries since December ’83, when Spain controversially had won by 12-1 (!) to claim a place in the 1984 Euros on behalf of Holland. Any result inferior to an eleven goal victory margin for Spain would’ve seen the Dutch through that night. Not only would the Spanish participate in France that following summer: They even proceeded to making it all the way through to the final against the host nation. 

Spain welcomed back Manuel Sanchís, who took up his usual place in central defence next to libero Andrinúa. Górriz, who now firmly had established himself as the second choice central defender, took place among the substitutes. The 4-4-2 formation which had served Luis Suárez well so far in the qualifiers was maintained, or was it? Manolo seemed to be wandering wide right more often than before, leaving an impression that Suárez had been tinkering with his formation. However, as before, he did include a deep-lying Míchel in the ‘regista’ role and a dynamic duo of Martín Vázquez and Roberto just ahead of him. 

Malta were on a high having gained a late point against Hungary in their previous outing, and under Horst Heese they looked improved, if unspectacular. Were the days of Malta as nothing but whipping boys over? Spain would prove an extremely difficult proposition. Under Luis Suárez they looked a totally different team to that which had performed rather poorly in the ’88 European Championships. For this match Malta’s West German coach had left out man marker Edwin Camilleri. In his place we saw his younger brother Silvio, who rather than taking up his sibling’s centre half position was playing at right back. However, his full-back role was more or less a man-marking one: Silvio Camilleri would be attending to Aitor Begiristain, the gifted Barcelona winger. We would se more or less the same issue on the opposite side, where traditional left back Alex Azzopardi would try to keep track of Manolo’s movements. Centrally, only Joe Galea (marking Butragueño) would accompany sweeper John Buttigieg, who was still struggling to get into the first team at English third tier side Brentford. This will have been Heese’s version of a 4-4-2. Not without a libero, of course, a role which no West German coach in the late 80s would see beyond. Joe Brincat, who had played right back in Malta’s group opener in Belfast, was back in the side having missed the Hungary game. He slotted in at the right hand side of midfield. Michael Degiorgio, who was more of an attacking midfielder in Ulster, was placed wide left against Spain. Again, skipper (Ray) Vella was sitting deep, with Martin Gregory in the more attacking-minded midfield role. And still David Cluett was the undoubted no 1 goalkeeper in Malta.

The match referee was Scotsman David Syme, 44 years of age. He had already been the middle man in the Group 7 meeting between Belgium and Switzerland during these qualifications, and having also appeared twice during the ’86 qualifiers, he was recognized as an experienced official. 

Malta (4-3-3)

1 David Cluett23Floriana
2 Silvio Camillerisub 55′20Hibernians
3 Alex Azzopardi27Ħamrun Spartans
4 Joe Galea23Rabat Ajax
5 Joe Brincatsub h-t18Ħamrun Spartans
6 John Buttigieg25Brentford
7 Carmel Busuttil24Genk
8 Ray Vella (c) 16′30Ħamrun Spartans
9 David Carabott20Hibernians
10 Michael Degiorgio26Ħamrun Spartans
11 Martin Gregory23Sliema Wanderers

12 Reginald Cini18Valletta
13 Edwin Camillerion 55′26Hibernians
14 Silvio Vella21Rabat Ajax
15 Charles Scerrion h-t24Hibernians
16 Hubert Suda19Sliema Wanderers
Manager: Horst Heese

Spain (4-3-3)

1 Andoni Zubizarreta27Barcelona
2 Quique Flores23Valencia
3 Manuel Jiménez25Sevilla
4 Genar Andrinúa24Athletic Bilbao
5 Manuel Sanchís 60′, 74′23Real Madrid
6 Roberto26Barcelona
7 Manolo24Atlético Madrid
8 Míchel25Real Madrid
9 Emilio Butragueño (c)sub 77′25Real Madrid
10 Rafael Martín Vázquez23Real Madrid
11 Txiki Begiristainsub 67′23Barcelona

12 Alberto Górrizon 77′30Real Sociedad
13 Juan Carlos Ablanedo25Sporting Gijón
14 Ricardo Serna25Barcelona
15 Eusebioon 67′24Barcelona
16 Julio Salinas26Barcelona
Manager: Luis Suárez

Tactical line-ups

Luis Suárez by now was beginning to perfection the 4-3-3, seeing Begiristain as the ideal third party in the three man strong front line, lead by captain Butragueño in the centre, and with Manolo to their right. Again, he would elect the same midfield which had served Spain so well in the home games against the two Irish: Míchel sitting deep behind energetic players such as Roberto and Martín Vázquez. And in defence Sanchís was back again after sitting out the Northern Ireland match with injury.

The Spanish would not have it all their own way against a very aggressive Malta, who saw a surprise inclusion on the right hand side of midfield, where Joe Brincat had been given the nod ahead of trusted players like Charlie Scerri and Martin Gregory. However, the latter was still in the line-up: Heese had put him in the central striker’s role, with Carmel Busuttil and David Carabott running off him on each side. To see midfielder Gregory up front was another surprise tactical manoeuvre from the West German. At the back there was Silvio Camilleri rather than brother Edwin on the right hand side, with Joe Galea doing his very best to keep Butragueño quiet down the middle. Captain Ray Vella was once again in the thick of the action in his central midfield role, while it was Michael Degiorgio who was responsible for charges down the left hand flank. However, both Brincat and Degiorgio also had to do a bit of cover work around Vella.

At half-time Malta took the hapless Brincat off and replaced him with Charlie Scerri, who took over his role on the right hand side of midfield, and subsequently turning in a more efficient display than the man whom he succeeded. Heese introduced a second substitution in Edwin Camilleri for his brother Silvio, a straight tactical swap at right back.

Spain also utilised both substitutes: Begiristain, having scored his country’s second goal on a fine individual effort, was replaced by Barcelona team mate Eusebio, who came on to play wide right, with Martín Vázquez taking over on the left hand side, although in a slightly more withdrawn role than that which Begiristain had been occupying. After Sanchís’ dismissal following two yellow cards, Suárez decided to bring on central defender Górriz in place of forward Butragueño, after Míchel had been caretaking at centre half for a couple of minutes.

Match Report

First half:
It was a sunny Sunday afternoon as Malta prepared for kick-off in their second home game of Group 6, but there was a strong wind sweeping across the length of the dry Ta’ Qali pitch, a wind which in the first half would be right in the visitors’ faces. Hopefully, the Spanish TV audience would not have taken too much notice of TVE’s graphics, which contained a couple of errors (they had mixed up the home side’s Brincat, Buttigieg and Galea, giving them numbers 4, 5 and 6 respectively). The group leaders were in dark blue, and it was quite evident that they were uncomfortable with the strong gusts of Mediterranean wind that made the opening exchanges a bit of a lottery. Malta’s goalkeeper David Cluett tried to take advantage every time he could, kicking long punts well into the Spanish half, though in general the Spanish backline were well in control. This defensive line appeared to be more square than previously, with Sanchís and Andrinúa more or less operating in line with one another. When remembering back to Euro ’88, Sanchís was given freedom to roam forward at every opportunity, but then there was of course the added security of yet another central defender. In the first half at Ta’ Qali the fine Real Madrid centre back was only once inside the opposition penalty area during open play. Somehow, there seemed to be a greater degree of certainty about their defensive display, but then again it was hardly world beaters they were up against, even if Malta had done well against Hungary in their previous outing and had been looking improved under Heese.

The Spanish full-backs were quite content staying inside their own half. We know Manuel Jiménez of Sevilla as someone who hardly ever scores, but his compatriot down the other defensive flank hardly sends the opposition’s nets bulging with alarming regularity either. Defending their goal, though, they are about as sound as you’ll get. At an average age of under 24, this could well be a backline which Spain will enjoy an enormous amount of pleasure from for a long period of time still. They’re hardly much more senior in the midfield department, where the average age of the three messrs in question is under 25. They seem to complement each other well, with the energetic legs of Roberto and Vázquez doing most of the running, though deep-lying playmaker Míchel is not to be outdone either. There is a total package of creativity, nouse, ability and also strength, the latter feature most notably through Roberto, who can be a proper menace when he wants to. However, equally strong with both feet, he adds a lot more than just steel to the Spanish midfield. And further upfield, whereas Manolo had been playing just off skipper Butragueño in their two previous qualifying matches, manager Luis Suárez had this time chosen to play the young Atlético Madrid forward wide right, adding more balance and width to their attack, with the relentless running of Basque Barcelona forward Begiristain down the other flank. No one who had witnessed Spain’s match in the round of 16 in the last World Cup will ever forget the vulture-like performance of young Real Madrid centre forward Emilio Butragueño. He might be less opportunistic these days, but he’s added more all-round qualities to his game, making him the undisputed leader of this young, energetic Spanish side. The “veteran” is the man between the sticks: At 27 Andoni Zubizarreta is vice-captain and the oldest player among the eleven. He rarely lets anyone down.

Little happened inside the opening quarter of an hour, with the exception of a well-struck low Buttigieg free-kick, straight into the arms of Zubizarreta. Then disaster struck for the home side, who were unable to prevent Spain forcing their way into the Maltese penalty area, where left back Azzopardi would end up flattening Manolo. Penalty was the only decision, though Malta captain Vella disputed so heavily with the Scottish referee that he earned himself a booking. Míchel would dispatch the penalty with the same ease and power that you would normally see from the Real Madrid wideman, giving Cluett absolutely no chance whatsoever. Further on in the half, Spain were content being an away goal to the good; Malta tried to huff and puff, but rarely threatened. However, there was time for an exception when Azzopardi swung in a left footed cross after some good work by Degiorgio, another left-footer: lone striker Gregory met the ball well with his head as he got in between Sanchís and Andrinúa, but Zubizarreta made a brilliant reaction save, parrying the ball away to safety. It could so easily have been 1-1. Malta, despite seeming short in cover in central midfield, where deep-lying captain Ray Vella was outnumbered by the Spaniards on a few occasions, dug deep, and Vella would occasionally be helped out by Degiorgio, who did not shy away when asked to come into more central positions for support, and both Busuttil and even Carabott took turns in increasing the Maltese midfield numbers. So they never let Spain dominate completely, though another factor to their advantage was of course the strong wind. Another late Buttigieg strike on target later, and the ref blew his whistle to end the first half. John Buttigieg, the big Maltese free man at the back, who always kept a lot of faith in his own qualities, despite finding it difficult to break into his English club side. At least once or twice during every international match he played, he would dribble his way out of defence, nowhere near being overawed neither by the occasion nor by the opposition’s big names. When you saw him perform for Malta, where he was a key figure, it was difficult to work out how he could not get into an English third division team.

This new tactic with Gregory up top and with Carabott and Busuttil running off him could have taken Spain by surprise, and another change in tactics was obviously with Heese abandoning his five man defence in order to counter Spain’s attacking width. Thus he would not be left with a central defender who would more or less be surplus to requirements. The two full-backs would each mark a Spanish wideman, and if necessary both Brincat (right) and Degiorgio from the wide midfield positions could also contribute defensively. The Maltese tactics worked well. They did a good job in nullifying the Spanish threat. Spain were playing with less energy than we had seen from their two matches against Irish opposition in Seville, and because of that Luis Suárez will have been quite pleased to have taken to the dressing room at half time a goal to the good.

Second half:
The start of the second half would see a substitution: Charles Scerri, not to be confused with Charles Scerri the Maltese international referee, was brought on to replace Joe Brincat in what appeared to be a straight switch, probably due to Scerri’s stronger attacking abilities. Has the wind died down a bit, though? Perhaps not. It does appear to be quite windy still, but the direction could have altered since the start of the first half, with both ‘keepers now kicking it long upfield, indicating that the wind was more across the pitch early second half. Cluett was seen assisted by his central defender Buttigieg for a goal kick. And please pay no attention to media who have later suggested that the Spanish captain, el Buitre, was booked a few minutes into the half: There was never a yellow card produced for the Vulture, who was often left feeding on scraps. Malta seemed unable to get going in the second half, which would come back to haunt them as Spain won the ball high on their left hand side, with Begiristain taking four touches before slotting home inside Cluett’s near post. At 2-0 Spain appeared to be cruising, and Martín Vázquez should have made it three only a minute later when he ran onto a through ball from Butragueño, having played a one-two with his fellow Real Madrid comrade. His chip went agonisingly wide of the goalkeeper’s right hand post.

Horst Heese at this point probably felt he had to do something, so he brought on his second and final substitute in a tactical switch: Older brother Edwin Camilleri, who had started both of Malta’s two previous matches, though been substituted in both, replaced right back and younger family member Silvio ten minutes in. It was a straight swap. Scerri’s introduction at half time had also yielded no change in formation. He was seen playing wide right, just like Brincat had done in the first half. Spain would continue to have the upper hand, and they did appear to be superior in the midfield area, where Roberto and, in particular, Vázquez were coming to prominence. Malta at times retorted to physical football, a tactic which didn’t go down too well with the Spanish players. There was an altercation within the centre circle when Spain had fouled Buttigieg, and the big Maltese defender would throw the ball first at Vázquez, then at Míchel. Not powerfully, but he could have been punished on intent alone. However, the Scottish referee was never fussy, and told the Spanish players instead to get on with it. Even he seemed to have had it with a bit of Spanish antics.

Sanchís earned a booking when he kicked Degiorgio to the ground, and less than 15 minutes later, on 74 minutes, he was sent off for another bookable offence, this time on Carabott. The Spanish couldn’t believe the decision, though no rage was taken out on the referee directly. They shook their heads in disbelief, most notably Míchel, who would deputise at centre half until Basque defender Górriz was brought on as a replacement for Butragueño, leaving Zubizarreta with the captaincy and Manolo up front on his own in a 4-4-1. A few minutes prior to the dismissal, Suárez had taken off second goalscorer Begiristain for fellow Barça man Eusebio, prompting the switch in formation, with Vázquez taking up the left side berth, Eusebio going right, and Butragueño working in tandem with Manolo up front. Sanchís had come very close to increasing the Spanish lead four minutes before he was sent off, as he met with the inside of his right foot a cross from Quique on the far post. Just wide.

Malta tried desperately to get a goal back playing eleven versus ten, but could not muster any clear cut opportunities against a stubborn Spanish defence. The very partizan home crowd tried to get behind their players, who were now feeding it high and long into the Spanish penalty area. However, Górriz and the excellent Andrinúa were never short of composure. The introduction of Scerri at the start of the half had brought more steel into the Maltese side, and they gave as good as they got, always relishing a good battle. There was a bit of handbags between Martín Vázquez and older brother Camilleri as the Malta full-back tried to retrieve the ball for a throw-in, but no further players were punished by the Scottish man in charge. The game would finish with a well-deserved away win, leaving Spain well clear at the top of the table with maximum points from three and no goals conceded. At this rate, who would be able to catch them? They seemed to live up to their pre-qualifying favourites tag, and Luis Suárez was seemingly doing a good job in restoring some faith in and pride of the national side. On to Belfast next for the return leg with the Northern Irish, whilst Malta would have to wait two months until their next tie – the return to the very same Spanish stadium where they had lost by that unbelievable margin just short of five and a half years earlier.


1 Cluett 6.6
could he have done better with Begiristain’s near post finish? Perhaps. Other than that the big man did ok. 
2 S.Camilleri 6.4
never very daring from his full-back position. Kept focus on defensive duties, but was absent as “his” man Begiristain drilled home the visitors’ second goal. 
(13 E.Camilleri 6.5
much the same as his brother: Edwin C’s strength is also not in venturing forward from a full-back position. As Begiristain was taken off not too long after Edwin Camilleri’s introduction, the big brother was left without a direct opponent for the remainder of the game, and thus probably had an easier task.)
3 Azzopardi 6.7
came face to face with the quick Manolo many a time, and did well in keeping track with him on most occasions. 
4 Galea 6.8
made sure Butragueño did not have the most fruitful of afternoons. 
5 Brincat 5.3
he did not get much right: Could not keep on to the ball, could not even play simple passes right. Struggled to keep up with the pace of the game. Deservedly taken off at h-t. 
(15 Scerri 6.6
brought even more aggression to the team in the second half with a typically committed display from his wide role. Better in being destructive than creative.)
6 Buttigieg 6.8
his usual nonchalant self when carrying the ball out of defence, never overawed by the opposition. Saw a couple of long distance attempts saved by Zubizarreta first half. 
7 Busuttil 6.5
the Spanish were well informed of his capability, so he was rather anonymous throughout. 
8 R Vella 6.7
the Malta captain does not relish a battle as much as some of his team mates, but always composed on the ball and kept a calm head right through the match. 
9 Carabott 6.4
full of running, but little end product. Played in a somewhat unusual position as a withdrawn forward to the left of centre. 
10 Degiorgio 6.6
fought very well, covered a lot of ground. 
11 Gregory 6.3
an impossible task as the lone striker, saw a cracking header brilliantly saved in the first half. 

1 Zubizarreta 6.9
stopped Gregory’s header with a reaction save, and was comfortably behind a couple of long distance efforts from Buttigieg. Assured. 
2 Quique 6.7
an interesting battle with Degiorgio, and they both gave as good as they got. Quique hardly ventured forward this time. 
3 Jiménez 6.9
again very solid, not allowing a lot from his side of the pitch. 
4 Andrinúa 6.8
solid, but not a spectacular display. Apart from Gregory’s big opportunity, the Spanish central defenders were in more or less total control. 
5 Sanchís 6.8
probably unlucky to get the second yellow. Until then reliable, with focus on defensive duties. 
6 Roberto 6.8
less visible than he had been in Spain’s two previous matches, but helped stabilize the midfield. 
7 Manolo 6.8
up and down the right hand side, but he probably does more damage when played in a central role. 
8 Míchel 7.1
always so steady on the ball, and hits long passes like no one else. Calm penalty for the opening goal. Perhaps got a bit caught up in Malta’s physical approach, which lead to the referee probably overlooking a couple of minor offenses against him, as the man in black will have felt that Míchel was overreacting. 
9 Butragueño 6.8
always on the move, and tries to pull his marker Galea out wide in order to create openings for others, such as his midfielders. Not brilliant, but also not poor. 
(12 Górriz –
hardly troubled after entering the pitch, as Malta’s momentum soon died out.)
10 Martín Vázquez 7.1
agile and mobile, the Maltese did not manage to get to grips with him. So nearly made it three a minute after 2-0 as he ran onto a through ball and lobbed his finish wide. 
11 Begiristain 7.0
fine game out on the left hand side, where his 2-0 goal was a clever peace of individual play. 
(15 Eusebio –
also helped stifling the Maltese with his tidy recovery runs and hold-up play.)