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Spain prosper on home soil

Our series charting the history of the UEFA European Championship recalls 1964 when a Spain side built on a strong team ethic saw off Hungary and holders the Soviet Union as hosts.
Spain prosper on home soil
The Spain players and coach celebrate winning the tournament ©Getty Images

Spain prosper on home soil

Our series charting the history of the UEFA European Championship recalls 1964 when a Spain side built on a strong team ethic saw off Hungary and holders the Soviet Union as hosts.

Spain combined home advantage and spirited teamwork to win their first major trophy in 1964 as the European Nations' Cup continued to grow.

The format remained the same with a qualifying competition followed by a four-team final tournament, yet after the buzz surrounding the inaugural edition the number of entrants rose from 17 to 29, with Italy and England now among the field.

England fell 6-3 on aggregate to France in Alf Ramsey's first competitive outings as manager, although at least they had been able to compete on the pitch. In an echo of the diplomatic wrangling from 1960, Greece objected to facing Albania, with whom they were officially at war, and the tie was awarded to their opponents.

Albania failed to grasp this opportunity as they were beaten 4-1 on aggregate by Denmark in the last 16. The Danes then sealed their place in the final tournament by seeing off surprise quarter-finalists Luxembourg after a play-off. In-form striker Ole Madsen fired six goals in Denmark's three matches against the Grand Duchy, who had earlier defeated the Netherlands 2-1 in Rotterdam – their last away win over European opposition until 1995.

Conquerors of a France team on the wane, Hungary also advanced to the semi-finals, where they were joined by Spain and holders the USSR. Spain, looking particularly impressive after dispatching the Republic of Ireland 5-1 and 2-0 in the previous round, were chosen to stage the tournament's concluding sequence.

That was conditional on them accepting Soviet participation, however – in 1960 Spain had been disqualified after General Franco refused his side permission to play the USSR. Four years on, political disagreements were happily forgotten as football took centre stage.

The USSR were hungry to defend their title and swept past Denmark 3-0 in Barcelona, with a goal apiece for 1960 veterans Valentin Ivanov and Victor Ponedelnik.

In the other semi in Madrid, Spain required an extra-time winner from Real Madrid CF forward Amancio Amaro to edge past Hungary 2-1, but with midfielder Luis Suárez pulling the strings they went into the final with confidence high. Already a European champion with FC Internazionale Milano, Suárez added top-level experience to a youthful Spanish ensemble.

Six minutes into the final at a raucous Santiago Bernabéu, the gifted No10 provided the cross for Jesús Pereda to break the deadlock. Galimzian Khusainov quickly responded for the Soviets, only for Marcelino Martínez to head a memorable winner six minutes from time.

"Other Spain teams I played in were much better than the 1964 side but we never achieved anything," Suárez said. "That one was a team rather than a selection of top players."

Last updated: 29/02/16 13.55CET

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