Italy v Spain – If at first you don’t succeed…
Until the recent past, the chief footballing difference between Italy and Spain’s footballing histories came in the form of their international sides, and the success, or lack of it they enjoyed.
Both countries had seen their club sides rule the roost in European football, with Spain dominating the 1950s, Italy the 1960s and 1980s, and Spain the first decade of the 20th century.
Yet, until the summer of 2008, Italy’s four World Cup titles dwarfed the figure of zero for Spain, a peculiar blot on the Iberian footballing landscape.
Times have changed now, and the Azzurri and la Roja are both amongst Europe and the world’s best, their meetings often the most enthralling of any international tournament, just as they used to be when the game was still young.
The first time the two met was way back in 1920, a game which Spain won 2-0 on their way to an Olympic silver medal. The Olympic games were the only real place to test one’s ability before the World Cup started and the two were to meet again in that competition in 1928.
It is a testament to the historical respect of both nations that some of the names of players in that game some 88 years ago are as familiar as some of those who may feature this week.
However, for all the star power of both sides, it was the resilience of the Italian squad that was to prove critical.
The two met on the evening of Friday 1st June, with the Spanish team featuring a number of the Real Sociedad side who had drawn twice against Barcelona in the Copa del Rey final a week or so before.
It was one of those players, Domingo Zaldua, who gave Spain a first half lead. Perhaps weary by their domestic exploits, Adolfo Baloncieri brought the Azzurri level during the second period. After a goalless period of extra time, a replay was needed.
The bruising encounter left both sides with a number of injury doubts as they prepared for the second meeting. While Torino’s Gino Rossetti and Inter’s Silvio Pietroboni were certainly out, there was also a doubt over Angelo Schiavio of Bologna.
The great striker was still making his way to the level he would eventually assume, but he was a vital member of the Azzurri side. Eventually, he was passed fit, meaning Italy could line up with just two changes from the first game.
On the other hand, Spain were forced into a raft of changes – five new faces came into the side for the replay.
With nearly half their side replenished, the fresh Spanish legs might have been expected to ensure that Jose Berraondo’s team would get off to a flying start.
However, the Azzurri had other ideas. A period of four minutes just over a quarter of an hour into the game settled the tie and set the tone for what was to become one of the most one-sided games in both Italian, and Spanish, history.
One of the two newcomers, Mario Magnozzi, opened the scoring after fourteen minutes. Schiavio and Baloncieri made it 3-0 by 18 minutes, and the tie was dead.
Fulvio Bernardini added a fourth before the break, before Spain were able to hit back.
Jose Yermo was one of those multi-talented athletes which time has rendered impossible. As well as playing in the Spanish football team, he represented his country in the cycling sprint; he lost in the repechage.
He scored his fourth and final goal for Spain after 47 minutes, though perhaps appropriately enough for a match played in Amsterdam, it was little more than a finger in a dyke.
Eventually, the water broke through and the Italian floodgates opened again. Enrico Rivolta’s only Azzurri goal restarted the rout, and a quick brace from Virgilio Livratti completed a 7-1 victory for the Italy side who went on to clinch the bronze medal – their first international honour.
The scoreline remains Spain’s heaviest ever international defeat, and is almost certain never to be beaten in that regard.
Coincidentally, the two met in the 1934 World Cup and drew 1-1 again. That time, the rematch was just 24 hours later, though the outcome was the same; another Italian win. Spain would not beat their rivals in a competitive game until a penalty shootout on their way to 2008 World Cup glory.
For a handful of the Spanish side, it was not the end of the disappointment. They returned home to a second replay against Barcelona where four of the side beaten by Italy succumbed to a 3-1 defeat.
Meanwhile, the Italians went from strength to strength. The 1928 Olympic outfit contained five of the players who went on to win the 1934 World Cup and begin the first golden chapter in Azzurri history.