Before Xavi and co. had ushered international football into an era of Spanish dominance, you would have been forgiven for not recalling the last name to come close to landing some silverware for La Roja.
Euro 1964 followed a successful staging of the tournament in France but political unrest would once more play a part in what was only the second edition of the European international tournament. Greece were drawn with Albania for a qualifying tie but, with the two countries at war, pulled out. Those that did enter played home and away qualifying ties in a format, unlike the qualifying stage we see today, leaving the last four teams to travel to Spain for the finals.
Luxembourg surprised many as they managed to find a way past the Netherlands in a tight 3-2 win on aggregate before eventually losing a tightly contested tie against Denmark that required a third game to settle it. Denmark reached the semi-finals along with hosts Spain, Hungary – who had eliminated Wales in the preliminary round – and the reigning champions led by the pivotal Lev Yashin, the Soviet Union.
Political tensions came to the fore again as Spain who, under the rule of General Franco, had refused to come up against the Soviet Union for a qualifying round tie in Euro 1960 were allowed to partake by El Caudillo in this edition. He would not regret his decision.
The years preceding Euro 1964 had not been kind to Spanish football as they had failed to qualify for the World Cups of 1954 and 1958. La Roja did not manage to make it past the group stage at the 1962 World Cup in Chile and made it no further in England in 1966. The national side chosen to represent Spain in Euro 1964 did not boast the stars that were to follow, names like Raul Gonzales or Fernando Torres, but were full of industrious names desperate not to let their fellow countrymen down.
“If you look at that win, the Spanish public doesn’t consider it as important as it was,” said Juan Castro, a journalist at Spanish daily sports newspaper Marca. “But we cannot forget Euro 1964. It is not in the hearts of the public. That is probably because, although we remember Luis Suarez, it was a team of no superstars.”
Euro 1964 was to be held in Spain and this may well have influenced General Franco’s decision as the Spaniards took heart in their surroundings. In recent outings, we have grown used to seeing familiar names from Barcelona and Real Madrid in Spain’s starting line-up and the big two played an intrinsic part in 1964 as six names came from the sides.
In the first semi-final, the hosts managed to squeeze past Hungary in a tight game. Then Barcelona forward Jesus Maria Pereda put Spain ahead in the 35th minute, but the Hungarians drew level in the 84th minute via a Ferenc Bene strike. It eventually took a goal from Real Madrid’s Amancio Amaro in extra time to book La Furia Roja’s spot in the summit clash of their home tournament.
In the other semi-final, the Soviet Union cemented themselves as tournament favorites after brushing past Denmark 3-0 with goals from Valery Voronin and heroes of the first edition Viktor Ponedelnik and Valentin Ivanov.
The stage was set in the illustrious Santiago Bernabeu Stadium as politics and football once more played host to a crowd of over 80,000. A footballing hero would be forged into Spanish history and although he will likely be better remembered for coaching his nation’s side at the World Cup in 1990, Luis Suarez is one the most important names in Spanish footballing history. “My main memory [of the final] is of the atmosphere because the Bernabeu was full,” Suarez told the UEFA webpage.
In front of a buoyant Santiago Bernabeu crowd which included President Franco, the hosts took an early lead through Jesús María Pereda. The USSR responded in likely fashion, drawing level as a result of Galimzyan Khusainov but Spain rose once more, Luis Suárez again demonstrating his influence by laying on Marcelino Martínez for the winner.
Suárez had become an increasingly instrumental figure for the Roja and it was his attacking efforts that paved the way for his team’s first. All four Spanish goals in the tournament were the result of crosses from the right and on for the first goal it was Suárez who provided a delivery which, having been missed by Edouard Mudrik, was thumped in by Pereda from close range.
“We played well as a team,” added Suarez. “We were very compact and the players understood and complemented each other very well, partly because they came from only a few clubs. There was only one player with a lot of international experience – me! I was the oldest player [at 29] and I was already playing abroad. But it was a team, rather than a selection of top players, and this teamwork was the crucial element in our triumph. We had great support from the Spanish people. The fans identified with us, maybe because we were a very young team willing to achieve something.”
Tellingly, Jesús María Pereda’s goal marked a happy return to the Santiago Bernabeu for a player who had left Real Madrid to become a huge figure for arch-rivals Barcelona. The lesson here being that togetherness plays a huge role in securing glory at such an event.
This edition’s star, Luis Suárez, understood just that and brought the best out of his teammates on the way to lifting the only trophy Spain would claim for the next 44 years.
Read the previous episodes of our History of the UEFA Euro:
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