Spain – Malta
|4||Rep of Ireland||3||0||2||1||0||2||2|
Just two months after their previous encounter, Spain and Malta came head to head in Estadio Benito Villamarín, where the Republic of Ireland had suffered a 2-0 defeat earlier in the group. Spain were seemingly unstoppable at the top of the table, with four wins from four coming into the game, and they were faced with a rather winable tie here in Seville. They were still to concede, whereas Malta’s only two goals before this match had come in their 2-2 draw with Hungary. The odds weren’t exactly in favour of an upset.
After a few changes for their tricky tie in Belfast, Spain manager Luis Suárez once again reverted to the known and familiar, with a flat back four, the midfield three of Míchel, Vázquez and Roberto, and with Manolo and Begiristain attacking down the flanks in support of lone centre forward Butragueño, still the Spanish skipper. Malta boss Horst Heese decided to go with ten of the players who had started the previous fixture, with Charles Scerri as the only change coming in for Joe Brincat on the right hand side of midfield, the very same change which we had seen at half time in Valletta. The Maltese would no doubt try to deny the superior Spanish space, and though Heese continued with a four man defence, as opposed to the five man backline which he fielded in the matches in Belfast and against Hungary, it was expected that only John Buttigieg would be without marking responsibility as he would continue to sweep behind Joe Galea. As we know by now, this was Malta returning to the scene of their humiliating 12-1 reverse back in December ’83. They could hardly be blamed for wanting to play it safe.
There would be a Swiss trio in charge of the party, with 43 year old Georges Sandoz overseeing what was only his second ever World Cup qualifier as a referee, three and a half years after he had directed during a win for Czechoslovakia against Sweden. This Thursday fixture took place on Maundy Thursday (Jueves Santo in Spanish) and would kick off in broad daylight.
|1 Andoni Zubizarreta||27||Barcelona|
|2 Quique Flores||24||Valencia|
|3 Manuel Jiménez||25||Sevilla|
|4 Genar Andrinúa||24||Athletic Bilbao|
|5 Manuel Sanchís||23||Real Madrid|
|7 Manolo||24||Atlético Madrid|
|8 Míchel||26||Real Madrid|
|9 Emilio Butragueño (c)||25||Real Madrid|
|10 Rafael Martín Vázquez||sub 69′||23||Real Madrid|
|11 Txiki Begiristain||sub 69′||24||Barcelona|
|12 Alberto Górriz||31||Real Sociedad|
|13 Vicente Biurrun||29||Athletic Bilbao|
|14 Eusebio||on 69′||24||Barcelona|
|15 Felipe Miñambres||23||Sporting Gijón|
|16 Eloy||on 69′||24||Valencia|
|1 David Cluett||23||Floriana|
|2 Edwin Camilleri||26||Hibernians|
|3 Alex Azzopardi||sub 31′||27||Ħamrun Spartans|
|4 Joe Galea||24||Rabat Ajax|
|5 Charles Scerri||24||Hibernians|
|6 John Buttigieg||25||Brentford|
|7 Carmel Busuttil||25||Genk|
|8 Ray Vella (c)||30||Ħamrun Spartans|
|9 David Carabott||20||Hibernians|
|10 Michael Degiorgio||27′, 45′||26||Ħamrun Spartans|
|11 Martin Gregory||24||Sliema Wanderers|
|12 Reginald Cini||18||Valletta|
|13 Silvio Vella||22||Rabat Ajax|
|14 Denis Cauchi||on 31′||24||Floriana|
|15 Simon Sammut||21||Birkirkara|
|16 Bernard Licari||18||Floriana|
Spain were in their now more or less favoured 4-3-3 formation, as Begiristain was pushing just as much forward as Manolo on the opposite side was. Again, Míchel was sitting deep in his regista role, with Vázquez and Roberto doing the running from central midfield. Both full-backs were also allowed to attack as frequently as they wanted, as Malta were, unsurprisingly, sitting very deep, protecting whatever they could from the word go.
Malta were in 4-4-2, with three of their four defenders having marking assignments; only Buttigieg didn’t. It was clear early on that marking was not left back Azzopardi’s greatest strength, as he lost track of Manolo time and again: Míchel would often knock it long towards the byline for Manolo to chase, and the normally solid enough left-back’s sloppiness in his positional play and marking was a big source of frustration on the sidelines. It culminated in Heese taking Azzopardi off for tactical reasons just after 30 minutes were played. He shifted Edwin Camilleri across to left back, putting substitute Cauchi on Begiristain at right back.
With just over 20 minutes to go of the match, ‘Chus’ Pereda, who was standing in for his suspended boss Luis Suárez on the sidelines, brought on Eloy for Begiristain in a straight switch and also took off Martín Vázquez for Eusebio. The latter went into the deep midfield role previously occupied by Míchel, who was pushed further up field. This would help yielding another couple of goals for the home side.
Malta had to play the entire second half with ten men, as left midfielder Degiorgio had been sent off, very unfortunately, right on half time. Carabott was withdrawn from his forward role to replace Degiorgio on the flank.
Malta kicked off the first half in Andalucía, carefully going about their game plan of frustrating the home side. We would see the very same Maltese trio man mark the very same Spanish three: centrally Galea attended to Butragueño, on the right Camilleri looked after Begiristain, whereas Azzopardi, normally a left back without marking instructions, would keep an eye on the lively Manolo. It soon became evident that even Gregory, who had featured as a striker in the tie on Maltese soil, was told to stick close to Vázquez, who has perhaps been the star of the Spanish qualification in their opening four ties. This meant another change in formation for Malta, with Busuttil and Carabott again taking up the most advanced roles.
This was Míchel’s birthday. The Real Madrid star was turning 26. From his role as a deep lying playmaker he would continue to direct the Spanish attacks. Frequently, he would play it short to either Roberto or Vázquez, but with the latter more or less man-marked, something which Spain clearly had a plan B for, Míchel would instead try to exploit the space behind the Maltese number 3. This seemed like a surprise to the visitors, who clearly had planned for a less direct Spain. Manolo was time and again getting in behind Azzopardi, whose marking qualities were far from brilliant. Down the other flank, however, Begiristain was being kept quiet by the solid older Camilleri brother. Though Manolo got away from his marker on a few occasions, Spain could not take advantage, despite a number of decent opportunities to do so. Cluett in Malta’s goal seemed very alert. Again, we would see Cluett being assisted by Buttigieg for Maltese goalkicks.
From his position up in the stands, due to a one match suspension following his red card in Belfast, Spain boss Suárez saw his captain win the toss, and Butragueño chose to remain in the half in which they were already positioned, so Vella, whose hair had appeared to have developed into a proper mullet since their last outing, was left with the kick-off. There were a couple of other events which caught the spectator’s eye in addition to the Malta skipper’s glam-rock like hairdo: Zubizarreta’s cap to shield his eyes from the high-sitting sun made him look like a senior citizen from a Scandinavian country attending a traditional Spanish tourist event in Gran Canaria or Mallorca, and Scerri’s lack of shin pads, playing with his socks around the ankles from kick-off (this had not been an unusual sight from former Spanish left-back Gordillo). A quarter of an hour into the game Sanchís needed a new shirt. His original one had been torn to shreds in a challenge inside the Malta penalty area following a Míchel corner from the right, which had caused some havoc. Despite this scare for the visitors, they were generally keeping a rather less energetic-looking Spain at bay. However, as expected, they offered very little going forward,minor exceptions being a couple of wayward shots from Busuttil and then Carabott. On 27 minutes Degiorgio, Malta’s left side midfielder, was booked for time wasting as he delayed in taking a free-kick. It did seem a bit of a rushed decision by the referee, and one which would come back to haunt the Malta number 10. Scerri took a couple of kicks to his exposed shins and twice went down, and Spain tried to overload Azzopardi’s defensive flank with both full-back Quique and midfielder Vázquez supporting Manolo, with Degiorgio in vain trying to lend his defender some support. On 31 minutes Heese had seen enough of Azzopardi’s indiscipline in marking and his lack of positional sense, so the manager substituted him with Denis Cauchi, who came on to win only his third cap. This saw a switch from right to left for Edwin Camilleri, who would take over the duties of marking Manolo, who had been the main attacking threat throughout the half. Cauchi was trusted with the responsibility of nullifying the danger that everyone knew Begiristain could cause down his flank, as had been seen in their previous meeting.
Malta had been physical on home ground against the Spanish, and Buttigieg chose cynical tactics again when he brutally brought down Butragueño, only for the referee to refrain from a second Maltese booking. Not long after Camilleri, with that recent switch from a less busy afternoon on the right hand side of defence, brought down Manolo, his new task, just outside the penalty area, and, ironically, this would be the instigator which saw the home side take the lead, as Míchel scored from the resultant free-kick via a deflection off Carabott. Right upon half time, the referee would fall for Manolo’s dive to get Degiorgio sent off for a second bookable offence. Quique had just gone hard into two challenges, and perhaps the ref thought Degiorgio was seeking revenge, but all it was was a clumsy challenge which hardly warranted even a free-kick. Quite astonishingly, this was Degiorgio’s second sending-off away to Spain, as he’d suffered a similar fate during the shocking 12-1 defeat just over five years earlier. Being reduced to ten men on the stroke of half time was the last thing Malta needed having just gone a goal down.
What would the second half have in store? A Malta pursuing damage limitation. The first 20 minutes or so of the second half were a dire, static affair. Spain were unable to exploit the fact that Malta were down to ten men, and the visitors were more than content just sitting back, thinking a sole goal defeat in Seville a creditable result. And who could blame them? It was Spain who needed to up the ante.
Butragueño thought he’d won the home side a penalty shortly after kick-off in the second period: A ball through the middle from Míchel caught the Maltese defence square and Cluett came out and collided with the Vulture. However, the Swiss referee saw it as an attack on the goalie, despite the fact that the home captain needed a minute’s treatment. Roberto then hit the cross bar when he tried to chip Cluett following Manolo’s cushioned header into his path on 53 minutes, but that was as dangerous as it got for the red and blue, who struggled to break down a resilient Malta. Following Degiorgio’s dismissal, Carabott had taken up a position wide left, with Busuttil left alone up front. Roberto seemed to be in a more advanced role for the home side, as he tried to force his way into the penalty area a couple of times with well-timed runs, though he was not properly fed. And Malta going forward? On 57 minutes they almost forced an opening, when Busuttil, arguably their best player with the ball at his feet, advanced past a sliding Sanchís, only for Zubizarreta, without his silly-looking cap in the second half, to push the incoming Scerri’s effort out for a non-resultant corner.
Out of the blue a Martín Vázquez pass into the area saw Camilleri use his left arm to control the ball, and Míchel netted his second of the afternoon from the resulting penalty, despite Cluett’s best efforts to put him off. This seemed to prompt Spain into a higher pace for a period of time, also buoyed by two substitutions directly after the second goal, with Eloy coming on for Begiristain in a straight swap, and Eusebio replacing Vázquez. Míchel was given a more advanced role, with Eusebio dropping deep. The Real Madrid star revelled in his more forward role, and contributed to the final two goals as well, with a second-assist for Manolo’s first and an then an assist when Manolo headed Spain’s fourth in what seemed like a carbon copy of 3-0. By now, Luis Suárez was stood up against the players’ tunnel wall, probably well pleased with how his assistant “Chus” Pereda had directed the players in el jefe‘s absence from the susbstitutes’ bench.
The Spanish defence were never truly tested during the game, but there was still an opportunity for Andrinúa late on to show his quality when he simply collected the ball off an advancing Busuttil, who then again showed with his body language all of his inbuilt frustration. Andrinúa has emerged during these qualifiers as one of Spain’s brightest talents, and who knows what the future holds for the Basque central defender. He is quick, composed, strong in the tackle as well as in the air, and seems to be a good reader of the game. Pair him with anyone, and you will get a solid Spanish central defensive unit. Pair him with a player of Sanchís’ undoubted calibre, and you get a centre half duo of the highest quality. This youngish Spanish team could well be set for a rosy future, despite far from firing on all cylinders in this particular tie.
1 Zubizarreta 6.7
does well to keep his concentration as the Maltese so rarely threaten his range.
2 Quique 6.9
comfortable task. Neither Degiorgio nor Carabott are particularly eager to run at him.
3 Jiménez 6.8
is faced with Scerri, whose direct running at times causes a few issues.
4 Andrinúa 7.1
assured and competent. Never threatened.
5 Sanchís 6.9
battles with Busuttil a lot, wins everything in the air, but doesn’t always have it all his way on the ground.
6 Roberto 7.0
a strong display by the midfield engine.
7 Manolo 7.5
runs himself into the ground. Exploits weak positioning in the first 30 minutes, comes to the fore with two well-taken headers second half.
8 Míchel 7.9
his precise long range passing is a joy to behold, and when moved into a more advanced position with 20 minutes left, does a lot of damage to the visitors. Scores twice as well.
9 Butragueño 6.9
tightly marked by Galea, but shows a few nice touches, like when he has the second assist for 4-0.
10 Martín Vázquez 6.9
beautifully gifted, but not as efficient against a deep opponent as he’s been before.
(14 Eusebio –
gets a few touches after coming on into the deep midfield role.)
11 Begiristain 6.6
has a fairly mediocre afternoon. Rarely gets into crossing positions.
(16 Eloy –
more direct than his predecessor out on the wing, and has a fine assist for 3-0.)
1 Cluett 6.7
can do little with either goal. An approved display.
2 E Camilleri 6.4
gives away the free-kick for 1-0 and the pen for 2-0, but other than that is steady both on the right and on the left.
3 Azzopardi 5.6
extremely disappointing stuff from a normally reliable customer. No positional clue as Spain time and again exploited his weakness by hitting it long in behind him.
(14 Cauchi 6.0
does ok against Begiristain, and is even seen making it to the opposite byline on one occasion. A bit weak in the challenge.)
4 Galea 6.4
no major blunders as Butragueño’s marker.
5 Scerri 6.3
does a whole lot of running, often Malta’s most forward player. Twice in the first half pays the price for not wearing shin-pads.
6 Buttigieg 6.5
clearly told to be more no-nonsense.
7 Busuttil 6.0
often coming out second best in challenges with Sanchís, and doesn’t link up so well with Scerri and Carabott when breaking.
8 R Vella 6.2
steady, but never stamped any authority on the game.
9 Carabott 5.9
striker first half, left sided midfield second. Does a lot of running, but a bit light weight, and could improve his decision-making.
10 Degiorgio 5.7
very unfortunate to be sent off, doesn’t do a lot wrong. Having said that, you can’t afford to challenge a referee bent on punishing even minor faults.
11 Gregory 6.0
tries to cover a lot of ground, but ends up running inbetween the Spanish.