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England v Spain – More Interesting Than You Might Think

By on 7 September 2018

Tomorrow England meet Spain in the new UEFA Nations League. It will never have the intensity of a Germany, an Argentina or even maybe an Italy but delve into the history of meetings between the two and it still throws up some interesting and fairly crucial fixtures over the years.

Spain have twice being crowned European Champions and once World Champions from the last six major tournaments. Yet, until the latter part of the first decade of the 21st century, Spain probably shared the moniker of football’s perennial under-achievers with England. With only a “tainted” European Championship victory in 1964 and losing a European final to France in 1984, Spain had little success internationally until their recent rise to success in 2008.

Looking at the history of Spanish football, though, you would have to recognise the political influences of Dictator General Franco, who the Soviets accused of skullduggery when the two countries met in the 1964 European Nations Cup Final in Spain. Subsequently, their qualification for tournaments was patchy and there was speculation that the under-performances were due in part to the various regional separatist factions within the Spanish national team. These were being brutally suppressed by Franco at the time, which can’t have helped team bonding! That speculation has been denied by various players and managers since.

England v Spain Head to Head Record

Type Pld Won Drawn Lost For Against
Friendly 19 9 2 8 36 25
World Cup Finals 2 0 1 1 0 1
Euro Qualifier 2 2 0 0 3 1
Euro Finals 2 2* 0 0 2 1
Competitive Matches 6 3 2 1 5 3
Home 11 8* 1 2 25 9
Away 12 4 2 6 14 17
Neutral 2 1 0 1 2 2
Total 25 13 3 9 41 28


* Includes victory on penalties in Euro 96


In 1929, Spain became the first team outside of the Home Nations to beat England in a 4-3 victory at the Estadio Metropolitano in Madrid.

The two have never met in qualification for a major tournament. The first time they locked horns competitively was in 1950 at the Maracana in Rio De Janeiro in the World Cup Finals.  England lost 1-0 to confirm its exit and Spain progressed to fourth place.

July 2nd, 1950 – Rio de Janeiro


Charles Buchan's Football Monthly February 1966 England v Spain report

On the 8th December 1965 in the Bernabeu, England played Spain in a friendly. This would not look  especially significant to the casual observer but it actually marked a crucial point in England’s run-up to the 1966 World Cup. Alf Ramsey had been under a bit of pressure from the media who claimed that playing without wingers was simply not possible if  an England side were to be successful. After experimenting successfully with a new 4-3-3 formation in the previous England summer tour, Alf Ramsey decided that he would subsequently use the new formation sparingly – not wishing to reveal his tactical hand – before reverting back to his “wingless wonders” formation for this game. With great success. Haled both in the English and foreign press, this polished performance had pundits and supporters alike finally believing that ’66 might be England’s year.  Contrary to popular belief, this  was the formation Ramsey played in the World Cup rather than 4-4-2,  knowing that he had come upon a  system that suited these England players best. In the meantime, this led to some fairly indifferent performances and a certain degree of bemusement in the media including Pat Collins of Charles Buchan’s Football Monthly being compelled to pen an open letter to Alf  in February 1966 that SoccerAttic re-published earlier this year. We don’t have any action but the report from Charles Buchan’s Football Monthly is shown.


Aside from the result in 1950, England’s record against Spain in tournaments is pretty good. In 1968, England won both legs of their European quarter final tie to progress to the final four stages in Italy.

April 3rd, 1968 – Wembley Stadium

England v Spain from Charles Buchan's Football Monthly June 1968

Report from Charles Buchan’s Football Monthly – June 1968












May 8th, 1968 Estadio Bernabeu, Madrid

Report from Charles Buchan's Football Monthly July 1968

Report from Charles Buchan’s Football Monthly July 1968







England played well to win a “dead rubber” in the 1980 European Championships in Italy. After drawing 1-1 with Belgium, amidst the tear gas in the Stadio Delle Alpi in Turin, England subsequently lost 1-0 to the hosts leaving them, and the other team who could not qualify from the group, Spain, having to play out their final game with  precious little other than pride at stake. While it was, on paper, a competitive game, neither side had much to gain. However,  England prevailed with goals from Woodcock and Brooking.

June 18th 1980 – Stadio San Paolo, Naples

England v Spain

And so to the World Cup 1982 where Spain were the hosts. The ludicrous format involving a second group phase of just three teams meant that Spain were already out when they met England who needed to win by more than two goals. It was the first time in that tournament that we saw both Keegan and Brooking who had been suffering from injuries thus far. England huffed and puffed but could not break the deadlock and so, just for a change, found themselves going home while West Germany progressed, as group winners, to the semi-finals.

July 5th,  1982 – Estadio Santiago Bernabeu, Madrid


England do seem to have a habit of saving some of their best performances in friendlies for when they meet Spain. In February 1987, Gary Lineker, who was by now playing in Spain for Barcelona, scored four goals in a friendly at the Bernabeu after England went 1-0 down.

February  18th,  1987 – Estadio Santiago Bernabeu, Madrid


And we can’t round this feature off without a passing mention of Euro 1996. While falling outside of SoccerAttic’s usual sphere of historical coverage it has to be included here as, before last summer, it was the only time England had prevailed on penalties in a major tournament. Spain can count themselves very unlucky having out-played England for much of the game and having had two goals ruled out for offside that might well have both been given in different circumstances. But they weren’t and Spain remain to this day only one of two teams to be beaten by England on penalties. Let’s hope that the three lions have laid that ghost to rest.

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