Spain qualified for the quarter finals of Euro 96 in dramatic fashion courtesy of an 84th minute game winning goal from Guillermo Amor. The result, accompanied by Bulgaria’s 3-1 defeat to group winners France saw Spain qualify as Group B runners up.
Knowing only a win would be good enough to see his team advance, Spain coach Javier Clemente made four changes and lined his team up in an attacking 4-4-2 formation for this game. Kiko and Javier Majarin had both been impressive off the bench in the prior game, both playing key roles in the late equalizing goal against France. The pair were rewarded with starts here, with Miguel Angel Nadal and Juan Antonio Pizzi also returning to the lineup after suspension. Jose Luis Caminero, arguably Spain’s best player so far in the tournament, did not play a role in this game.
Opposing coach Anghel Iordanescu also made four changes, bringing in left winger Adrian Ilie to boost the attack. Constantin Galca and Ovidio Stinga were also drafted in, with wingers Dorinel Munteanu and Marius Lacatus among those omitted.
Romania won a shooting range free kick in only the second minute, when Gheorghe hagi was fouled by Abelardo. Star playmaker Hagi stepped up to take the free kick, but his effort was high and wide of the target. Spain had a free kick inside the Romanian half only a minute later, and Hierro launched a long diagonal ball forward. Nadal strode forward to head the ball back across the face of goal, but Romanian goalkeeper Florian Prunea was quick off his line to collect.
Romania flashed their quality in attack in the 7th minute, when Gheorghe Popescu intercepted a clearance from Spanish goalkeeper Andoni Zubizarreta. Popescu found Hagi who quickly shifted the ball into the path of Ilie, who advanced into the penalty area before firing his shot over the bar.
Left winger Ilie was proving to be a real problem for the Spanish, and created another chance when he combined with striker Florin Raducioiu before being tripped by Nadal 20 yards from goal. From the free kick, Romania worked a neat routine that ended with the ball being backheeled to Popescu, who had his shot deflected wide. Ilie was in behind again a minute later, driving by Spanish defender Juan Manuel Lopez to the byline before his cross was dealt with comfortably by Zubizarreta.
Ilie’s missed opportunity would prove costlier than expected as Spain went immediately down the other end of the field to open the scoring. Jose Emilio Amavisca combined with Kiko before firing a shot on goal that was inadvertently blocked by teammate Pizzi, the ricochet fell to defender Anton Dobos, who took a costly heavy touch. The loose ball rolled to Manjarin, who came in from his wide right position to dispatch a quality one touch finish past Prunea. The goal meant that as things stood, the Group B standings would see Spain forced into a 3 way tie alongside France and Bulgaria.
Spain carved out another chance when Kiko flicked on a Lopez long throw for Pizzi at the back post, but the striker’s shot was saved by Prunea.
The Group B landscape shifted again thanks to a goal in the other game, Laurent Blanc gave France a lead which meant Spain were now on course to qualify in second place.
The Spanish pressure continued in the 23rd minute as central defender Abelardo carried the ball forward before chipping a pass in behind the Romanian defensive line. Striker Kiko took the pass down on his chest before having his show blocked at close range by Galca. The impressive Kiko was fed the ball again soon after and showed his combination of skill and strength when he lifted the ball over the head of Galca then powered past him to the byline. The referee judged no foul when the attack ended with a Daniel Prodan challenge felling Kiko.
The ever changing qualification scenario shifted once more in the 29th minute when Romania levelled the score with a quality goal. Stinga exchanged passes with Hagi before driving through the heart of the Spanish midfield and slicing open the Spain back line with a precise through ball into the path of Raducioiu. The striker took a touch out of his feet and raced clear before firing a quality low finish past Zubizarreta. The goal meant that Bulgaria would qualify in second place even if beaten by France. It was a cruel irony for Spain that a forward who played his club football in La Liga with Espanyol could have been the reason they were sent home early.
Late in the first half, Spain won a wide free kick when Kiko was fouled by Galca. Fernando Hierro swung over a cross but a Romanian head got to it first to end the threat. Romania threatened at the other end when left back Tibor Selymes burst forward after being released by Hagi, only to have his cross snapped up by Zubizarreta.
Hierro got the last chance of the half when a Manjarin cross was half cleared to him on the edge of the area, only for the Real Madrid midfielder to hit his shot over the bar. Spain went into the intermission knowing that they would be eliminated from the tournament if they could not find a winning goal in the second half.
Spain came out firing in the second half, and created a chance within five minutes of the restart. Amavisca played a high pass forward, and Manjarin collected a Pizzi knockdown, only for Romanian goalkeeper Prunea to tip his shot over the bar.
The Spanish attack continued minutes later when a Dan Petrescu handball conceded a free kick on the edge of his own penalty area. Hierro drilled his free kick off the wall, before the rebound was passed to Amavisca who was flagged for being in an offside position.
Knowing his team needed a goal to stay alive in the tournament, Spain coach Javier Clemente withdrew Pizzi and sent on Alfonso, scorer of Spain’s equalizer in their opening game against Bulgaria, in his place.
Left back Sergi was impressive throughout the game, and pushed forward before cutting inside onto his right foot before firing wide. Another chance came down the left flank soon after when Amavisca exchanged passes with substitute Alfonso, finding himself open in front of goal 8 yards out but his shot was saved by Prunea.
In the groups other game over in Newcastle, a Lyuboslav Penev on goal put France 2-0 up, meaning Spain only needed a goal here to move into second place.
Spanish coach Clemente continued to make adjustments in pursuit of a goal, sending on midfielder Amor in place of defender Abelardo. Romania also made an attacking substitution, bringing on winger Munteanu for Ilie.
Amor made an immediate impact on the game when he was played in down the right flank by Kiko, Amor squared the ball to Hierro who had his shot blocked.
Bulgaria pulled a goal back in Newcastle, with Hristo Stoichkov meeting a free kick against France to tighten things up, but that goal would only matter if Spain could find victory here.
Romanian goalscorer Raducioiu was withdrawn by coach Iordanescu in the 78th minute, and replaced by Ion Vladiou.
Spain continued to knock on the door, and Manjarin opened up the defense before squaring to Hierro who fired his shot straight at Prunea.
The physical presence of Kiko was a continual problem for the Romanian defense, and the striker won a free kick when drawing a foul from Stinga. Hierro stepped up to take the free kick but fired his effort straight into the wall.
Hierro would be presented with another shooting opportunity soon after when Prunea punched clear a Rafael Alkorta cross. Hierro’s shot was blocked on the edge of the area by Popescu, but Spain would find the decisive goal from the very next attack.
Nadal got to the ball first as Popescu’s clearance bounced towards halfway, and headed it to Sergi wide on the left flank, the fullback produced an excellent first time cross to the back post area. Alfonso rose high at the back post to divert the ball back across goal, where Amor guided a diving header home from only a couple of yards out. The goal sparked wild celebrations in the Spanish crowd and meant Spain were on course for the last 8 barring a Bulgarian comeback or a Romanian goal.
Spain showed good game management in stoppage time, when a combination of Kiko and Alfonso combined to burn minutes off the clock by the corner flag. The final whistle blew, and Spain celebrated with fans after learning a third French goal had sealed a 3-1 win, eliminating Bulgaria and assuring Sapin of a quarter final spot.
Spain would enter the quarter final stages truly battle heartened, having produced an 84th minute winner in this game, an 85th minute equalizer against France, and also coming from a goal down to draw against Bulgaria in their Group B opener.
Coach Javier Clemente had shown some impressive tactical nous during the group stage, deploying a number of different personnel, and three different strike partnerships throughout the three games. Clemente also exhibited a golden touch when it came to subs in every group game. Substitute Alfonso netted the equalizer against Bulgaria with his first touch of the ball, Manjarin came off the bench to assist the equalizer against France, and in this game Amor netted the winner after being assisted by fellow substitute Alfonso.
Romania would be bitterly disappointed to go home pointless after three defeats scoring only one goal. Despite the consistently strong performance of star man Hagi, they never come close to reaching the heights of their recent USA 94 World Cup campaign, where they eliminated Argentina on the way to the quarter finals.
11’ SPA Javier Manjarin (Juan Antonio Pizzi) 1-0
29’ ROM Florin Raducioiu (Ovidiu Stinga) 1-1
84’ SPA Guillermo Amor (Alfonso) 2-1
MAN OF THE MATCH
#17 RM Javier Manjarin (Spain) – A thoroughly impressive permanence on the right flank by Manjarin was capped with his classy opening goal to get Spain rolling.
3: RM Javier Manjarin – Man of the Match.
2: CF Kiko – The powerful striker was a force both in the air and on the ground all game, keeping possession for Spain and being a consistent threat in attack.
1: LD Sergi – Pulled his weight on the defensive end, also joining to the attack to good effect, including the pivotal cross for Amor’s winning goal.
3: RM Ovidiu Stinga – A dynamic performance on the flank from Stinga was capped when he beat several Spanish midfielders off the dribble before releasing Raducioiu for Romania’s goal.
2: LM Adrian Ilie – Full of pace and confidence, Ilie was a consistent source of penetration and service into the box for Romania, particularly during the first half.
1: CM Gheorghe Hagi – The mercurial playmaker was his typical self, connecting passes all game and drawing a number of dangerous fouls in the attacking third.