Spain had enjoyed reasonable success in their latest World Cup and were seeded in Group 6 of the European qualification. Where did they stand before their campaign for the 1990 World Cup?

Even though the period under Miguel Muñoz in general had been positive for the national team, the team was criticized after a disappointing Euro 1988. Spain had looked static and uninspirational, critics claimed. Following the group exit, several veterans retired from the national team: Camacho, Víctor, Gallego, Gordillo.

Luis Suárez was appointed new manager after the Euro exit. He had been coaching the U21s since 1984 (and possibly involved in Spain’s staff during the 1988 Euros?) and thefore knew well the younger team members of the current squad. With all the retirements, his side was also to be one of the youngest in the UEFA qualifying zone for Italia’90. While there still was a backbone in the team (Zubizarreta, Sanchís, Michél, Butragueño), there were certainly a lot of positions to be filled.

Spain had enjoyed reasonable success in their latest World Cup and were seeded in Group 6 of the European qualification. Where did they stand before their campaign for the 1990 World Cup?


While the period under Miguel Muñoz (1982–1988) had seen two good tournaments in France 1984 and Mexico 1986, the team was criticised after a disappointing Euro 1988. Spain had looked static and dull, critics claimed. There was perhaps also a sense that the older generation needed to step down and pave way for a rejuvenation of the team, as all the remaining veterans in the team, Camacho, Víctor, Gallego and Gordillo, retired from international duties in the wake of the tournament. More importantly, Muñoz stepped down.

Among the candidates in the frame for the position were mentioned Javier Clemente (Espanyol), Vicente Miera (Oviedo) and Luis Aragonés, as well as Luis Suárez (Spain U21).

On Thursday 18 August 1988, Luis Suárez was appointed new manager of Spain’s national team. He had been coaching the U21s since 1980 (and was possibly involved in Spain’s staff during the 1988 Euros?), meaning he was well acquainted with almost every member of the squad, as they at some stage had been part of his U21 setup. Due to the retirements, his inherited squad was moreover one of the youngest in the UEFA qualification: Butragueño was now the most capped (35) player in the team, just ahead of goalkeeper Zubizarreta (34).

Attacking philosophy

Two friendlies were scheduled before the campaign for Italia’90, both at home in Spain against Yugoslavia and Argentina. This double prelude suggested that Luis Suárez wants his team to play an attacking style of football with emphasis on quick, almost direct passing.

The mantra is to launch quick attacks as soon as the teams gets possession of the ball, wasting little time in keeping possession of the ball. Even throw-ins are taken in rapid tempo by the full-backs, who also are instructed to sprint forward whenever possible. The team has players well capable of keeping possession of the ball and they prefer to play through midfield (as opposed to long ball tactics), but it is clear that Luis Suárez wants the team’s to pass the ball in a forward direction, and not sideway or backwards.

Luis Suárez made use of two different formations in these friendlies, the first an asymmetrical 4-3-3, the second a more orthodox 4-4-2. Change of formations is not uncommon in Spanish football, so this flexibility could be a strength for Luis Suárez’ team. If these preliminary matches are anything to go after, Luis Suárez will be looking to make small tactical adjustments in his formations to gain an advantage on his opponents.

Various midfield options

In his pre-campaign, Luis Suárez experimented with moving Míchel (Real Madrid) into the role as a deep playmaker. In the 1988 Euro, Míchel had played in his natural wide right midfield position. Since then, Víctor as well as Gallego had retired from the national team, meaning that Luis Suárez was on the outlook for new options in central midfield. Spain are lacking in central midfield compared to the eminent players that other powerhouses in Europe can show to, and Luis Suárez had already experimented with formations that allowed him to take greater part in the central areas of the field.

Roberto (Barcelona) had never been a regular for Spain, but was given the chance now when Luis Suárez took over the reigns. Roberto had unusually been playing as a second-striker against Yugoslavia, and in a more orthodox central midfielder role versus Argentina. He is clearly someone Luis Suárez wants to accommodate in the team, and it will be interesting to see how that works out.

There was also the gifted Martín Vázquez (Real Madrid), who Luis Suárez appeared more careful to pair with one of the two others in central midfield, probably having defensive concerns in mind. Against Argentina, Martín Vázquez played on the right side of midfield, where he unfortunately didn’t look to be at his best. Where will he fit in Luis Suárez’ system?

After the retirement of Víctor, Luis Suárez had no clear ball winning midfielder in his team. He did however try out Patxi Salinas (Bilbao) in the first friendly. Another player in contention is Eusebio (Barcelona), who could play either in centre or right midfield.

Who will partner Butragueño?

Butragueño (Real Madrid) was an indispensable member of the team, and was now even promoted as captain. It is more uncertain who would join him: it looked to be either Bakero (Barcelona) or Julio Salinas (Barcelona). These two had obviously different qualities, Salinas being a tall striker with strong headers, Bakero a gifted schemer. In the background, Eloy (Valencia) was also an option.

On the left hand side, Txiki Beguiristain (Barcelona) started both against Yugoslavia and Argentina, and looked destined to start also against Rep. of Ireland, whether as a forward in 4-3-3 or regular wide player in 4-2-2.

Defensive foundation

But if Luis Suárez had many options in mind for midfield and attack, he looked more certain about the defensive tasks.

Zubizarreta had established himself as the undisputed number one in goal. Notably, Luis Suárez did mention to the press upon his appointment, in the context of who he would consider to include in his team, that he wouldn’t rule out a return for Arconada. There would be no return for him in the preliminary friendlies however. As Zubizarreta’s deputy, Luis Suárez preferred Ablanedo (Sporting Gijón) to Buyo (Real Madrid), who had been Spain’s number two in the 1988 Euros.

Spain had fielded a new and young central pairing in the 1988 Euros: the libero Andrinúa (Athl. Bilbao) and Manuel Sanchís (Real Madrid). The latter had an excellent tournament and had also been a vital figure in Luis Suárez U21 side. In a back four, the central pair would without doubt be these two. While if Luis Suárez chose a 5-3-2, he could for example field Andrinúa’s club mate Patxi Ferreira (Bilbao). Fringe names that were mentioned in this discussion were Górriz (Sociedad) and Ricardo Serna (Barcelona).

It was a lot harder to predict who would play as full-back in the opening match. Camacho had retired, and so had (by the looks of it) Tomas. The fact is that Spain had many options of similar quality: Chendo (Real Madrid) and Quique Flores (Valencia) at right back, Soler (Real Madrid), Jiménez (Sevilla) and Nando (Valencia) at left back, and finally López Rekarte (Barcelona) who could play at either side, were all fielded in the two friendlies prior to the qualification. It looked to be a completely open question who would get the nod on either side!


Friendly: Spain 1-2 Yugoslavia
Goal: Míchel
Line-up (4-3-3): Zubizarreta (Ablanedo 85) – Chendo, Andrinúa, Sanchís (Patxi Ferreira 85), Soler (Quique 61) – Patxi Salinas (Julio Salinas 60), Míchel, Martín Vázquez – Roberto, Butragueño (c) (Nando 61), Begiristain
After a relatively bright opening half hour, Spain faded, and although they could have claimed that they had deserved a share of the spoils, Yugoslavia appeared the better team going forward. It was a disappointing defeat in Luis Suárez’ first match in charge, and after the three European Championships defeats it was hardly what they had wanted to try and bring back some enthusiasm for the national team.

Friendly: Spain 1-1 Argentina
Goal: Butragueño
Line-up (4-4-2) : Zubizarreta – Quique (Jiménez h-t), Andrinúa, Sanchís, López Rekarte – Martín Vázquez, Míchel, Roberto, Begiristain (Patxi Salinas 80) – Bakero, Butragueño (c) (Julio Salinas 87)
With these two matches, it became clear that Luis Suárez had a new midfield constellation in mind, and also was unsure about who to play as full backs.

Squad report
Spain’s team selection autumn 1988


Qualification campaign

Qualifier 1
16.11.1988. Spain 2-0 Rep. of Ireland
Goals: Manolo, Butragueño
Line-up (5-3-2): Zubizarreta – Quique (Solana 85), Górriz, Andrinúa, Sanchís, Jiménez – Míchel, Roberto, Martín Vázquez – Manolo (Ramón 69), Butragueño (c)
The Spanish open their qualifying account with a massively important win against possible group title rivals. Suárez had started off with a 5-3-2 formation, but had switched to 4-4-2 for the second half. Defender Górriz and forward Manolo had been surprise starters

Qualifier 2
21.12.1988. Spain  4-0 N. Ireland
Goals: Rogan (own goal), Butragueño, Míchel (pen.), Roberto
Line-up (4-4-2): Zubizarreta – Quique, Andrinúa, Górriz, Jiménez – Míchel, Roberto, Martín Vázquez, Begiristain (Serna 65) – Manolo (Julio Salinas 78), Butragueño (c)
Despite winning by four clear goals, the Spanish did not create an awful lot of opportunities. Míchel had done well in the deep midfield role, but was still outshone by Real Madrid team mate Martín Vázquez. Spain had never been threatened defensively

Qualifier 3
22.01.1989 Malta 0-2 Spain
Goals: Míchel (pen.), Begiristain
Line-up (4-3-3): Zubizarreta – Quique, Andrinúa, Sanchís, Jiménez – Míchel, Roberto, Martín Vázquez – Manolo, Butragueño (c) (Górriz 77), Begiristain (Eusebio 67)
Up against a gutsy Malta, Spain need to demonstrate moments of class to return home with both points. They would lose Sanchís to a red card during the second half, meaning he would now miss the trip to Belfast

Qualifier 4
08.02.1989. Northern Ireland 0-2 Spain
Goals: Andrinúa, Manolo
Line-up (5-3-2): Zubizarreta – Chendo (Eusebio 40), Górriz, Andrinúa, Serna, Jiménez – Roberto, Míchel, Martín Vázquez – Bakero (Manolo 78), Butragueño (c)
Spain come to Belfast with a cautious approach, and get their win by scoring on two corners. It is Bakero’s first match in the qualifiers, but he does not look convincing and is taken off. So is Luis Suárez, who is sent to the stands for persistent complaints to the refereee.

Midway report

Qualifier 5
23.03.1989. Spain 4-0 Malta
Goals: Míchel 2 (1 pen.), Manolo 2
Line-up (4-3-3): Zubizarreta – Quique, Andrinúa, Sanchís, Jiménez – Míchel, Roberto, Martín Vázquez (Eusebio 69) – Manolo, Butragueño (c), Begiristain (Eloy 69)
Spain win comprehensively despite not firing on all cylindres. They took advantage of weaknesses in the left side of the Malta defence, and Míchel plays a huge role in the win, even scoring twice.

Qualifier 6
26.04.1989 Rep. of Ireland 1-0 Spain
Line-up (5-3-2): Zubizarreta – Quique (Eusebio 70), Górriz, Sanchís, Serna, Jiménez – Míchel, Roberto, Martín Vázquez – Manolo, Butragueño (c) (Julio Salinas 70)

20.09.1989. Spain 1-0 Poland
Goal: Míchel
Line-up (4-4-2): Zubizarreta (Ochotorena 82) – Chendo, Andrinúa (Hierro 24), Sanchís, Jiménez – Míchel (Eusebio 70), Roberto (Minguela 59), Martín Vázquez, Villarroya – Manolo (Salinas 70), Butragueño (c)
4-4-2 for Suárez, giving left sided midfielder Villarroya his debut. Andrinúa had got injured and been replaced by another debutant in Hierro. Both Hierro and fellow debutant and former team mate at Valladolid, Minguela, would be severely booed by the La Coruña crowd after an incident in the previous season’s cup tournament. Míchel struck the sole goal, though Manolo could’ve scored twice, and Martín Vázquez, who had a fine game, also could’ve netted. Well deserved win ahead of the final two qualifying matches. A total of four players make their Spain debuts.

Qualifier 7
11.10.1989. Hungary 2-2 Spain
Goals: Julio Salinas, Míchel
Line-up (4-4-2): Zubizarreta (c) – Chendo, Andrinúa, Sanchís, Jiménez – Míchel, Roberto, Martín Vázquez, Villarroya – Manolo (Hierro 86), Julio Salinas (Pardeza 68)

Qualifier 8
15.11.1989. Spain 4-0 Hungary
Goals: Manolo, Butragueño, Juanito, Fernando
Line-up (4-4-2): Zubizarreta – Chendo, Juanito, Sanchís, Jiménez – Míchel (Eusebio 66), Milla, Fernando, Villarroya – Manolo (Julio Salinas 66), Butragueño (c)
Thanks to three first half goals, Spain romp to victory against careless visitors. There were goals for debutants Juanito and Fernando, and another player winning his first cap, midfielder Milla, also did well


Spain eventually defend their tag of being billed pre-campaign favourites, even if they won’t have it all their own way in a tough away game against Ireland, and they will also have been disappointed to have let a two goal lead in Budapest slip. Apart from that, they were more or less invincible. At home their tally of 14 goals scored and none conceded was second to none, and the city of Seville once again proved to be the right place for la roja to show their colours.

Luis Suárez brought with him some of the players that he had had during his time as Under-21 coach, and he would often keep faith in a lot of the same players from one match to another. Three players, goalkeeper Zubizarreta, left back Jiménez and midfield ace Míchel, started all of their eight matches, with others featuring six and seven times. The manager brought back into contention right back Chendo for the final couple of matches, as Quique had been unavailable due to injury. There were even appearances on the subs’ bench for Tomás, the player who had featured at right back both in the ’86 World Cup and during the ’88 European Championships. Andrinúa and Sanchís were Suárez’ prefered centre back partnership, while he would also deploy tactics including a five man defence, which would see tough Bask defender Górriz added to the mix. There were also a couple of appearances for the unspectacular Serna, whilst Juanito had seemed very confident when given the chance for the final match against the Hungarians.

Midfield: Suárez would often prefer a central three with Míchel sitting deep behind Martín Vázquez and Roberto. However, this appeared to be a bit light weight in tough away fixtures, and they did not prove to be the right solution for the tie in Dublin. Against weaker opposition Míchel would revel in his deep role, conducting Spanish attacks from the back, but he was hardly a great tackler of the ball. And there were limitations to both Martín Vázquez’ and even Roberto’s defensive capabilities. A hard man in midfield, as so often before seen in the Spanish national team colours, seemed to be missing. Eusebio was seen coming on no less than five times during the campaign, but was hardly this physical presence in midfield. Luis Milla was given the opportunity in a deep role in the final match, but it was no proper test against beleaguered Hungarians. Fernando also took his opportunity well to shine in a fairly easy contest. As for wide players, Begiristain had played three times and done alright, whilst Villarroya got the final two matches against the Hungarians. He was probably a step down from the Barça man. Even Eloy was seen in a sole substitute appearance. On the opposite flank, it was often up to the right back to go forward. Manolo would also feature more or less as a right forward in Suárez’ 4-3-3, whereas a more conservative alternative could be often used substitute Eusebio. Martín Vázquez was also no stranger to either flank.

Up front Manolo proved to be a real find with his five goals in total, Spain’s (and the group’s!) leading scorer along with Míchel. Butragueño would be wearing the captain’s armband whenever he was playing, and seemed to enjoy a great deal of trust from the manager. They both started seven out of eight matches. Bakero and Salinas had one starting berth each, with neither totally convincing the boss, and surely the former less than the latter. In-form Pardeza got a few minutes in Budapest, and Sevilla’s Ramón had been seen in the opening tie against the Irish appearing from the bench.

Spain had a high top level, but the manager would need to identify a solid defensive midfielder who could do the dirty work in front of his central defenders when in muddy waters. With the average age quite low, there did appear to be a lot of potential for further development, so Spain would be going to the World Cup as one of the rank outsiders.

Final position: 1 (out of 5 – qualified)
Total record: 8 6 1 1 20-3 13
Home record: 4 4 0 0 14-0 8
Away record: 4 2 1 1 6-3 5

Player statistics

Number of players used: 26
Number of players including unused substitutes: 32
Ever-presents (720 mins): 2 (Zubizarreta and Jiménez)
Leading goalscorer: Míchel and Manolo (both 5)
Yellow/red cards: 5/1

– overview

Jiménez, Manuel88720
Zubizarreta, Andoni88720
Martín Vázquez, Rafael77609
Butragueño, Emilio775973
Andrinúa, Genar6615401
Sanchís, Manuel665241/1
Górriz, Alberto5411373
Chendo, Miguel332220
Serna, Ricardo3211205
Beguiristain, Txiki3312011
Salinas, Julio413212411/0
Milla, Luis1190
Bakero, José Mari11781/0
Pardeza, Miguel1122
Solana, Jesús Angel115
Hierro, Fernando1124
Ablanedo, José Luis3
Biurrun, Vicente2
Felipe Miñambres1
Ferreira, Patxi1
Ochotorena, José3

– game by game

PlayerIre (h) NIR (h) Mal (a) NIR (a) Mal (h) Ire (a)Hun (a) Hun (h) AppsMins
Sanchís 9074 (s.o.)909090906524
Roberto 909090909090907630

– ratings

PosPlayerAverage ratingNumber of rated games
5Butragueño 6,947
8Sanchís 6,856
10Roberto 6,827
Explanation to table: Number of rated games: 8. A player must have been given a rating in half or more of the games in order to feature


13.12.1989 Spain 2-1 Switzerland
Goals: Míchel (pen.), Felipe
Line-up: Zubizarreta – Chendo, Andrinúa (Luis Manuel 64), Sanchís (Ferreira 49), Jiménez (Tomás 47) – Míchel, Milla (Moya 63), Martín Vázquez, Villarroya – Manolo (Felipe 49), Butragueño (c)

21.02.1990 Spain 1-0 Czechoslovakia
Goal: Manolo
Line-up: Zubizarreta – Chendo, Andrinúa (Juanito 62), Sanchís, Górriz – Míchel (Rafa Paz 62), Roberto (Milla 53), Martín Vázquez, Villarroya – Manolo (Julio Salinas 79), Butragueño (c) (Pardeza 62)

28.03.1990 Spain 2-3 Austria
Goals: Manolo, Butragueño
Line-up: Zubizarreta – Chendo (Quique 56), Andrinúa, Sanchís, Jiménez – Míchel, Roberto (Górriz 56), Martín Vázquez (Rafa Paz 56), Villarroya – Manolo (Julio Salinas 70), Butragueño (c) (Pardeza 38)

26.05.1990 Yugoslavia 0-1 Spain
Goal: Butragueño
Line-up: Zubizarreta – Chendo (Alkorta 80), Andrinúa, Sanchís (Górriz 64), Jiménez – Míchel, Roberto, Martín Vázquez, Villarroya (Rafa Paz 64) – Manolo (Pardeza 80), Butragueño (c) (Fernando 88)

This Post Has One Comment

  1. simon

    14.09.88 Spain – Yugoslavia

    Yugoslavia Subs

    Krivokapic(Dundee U)

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