Spain were drawn in a relatively easy group of five teams, with only two real rivals, Austria and Israel, and two others considered as cannon fodder, San Marino and Cyprus. Or so it looked on paper. With manager Javier Clemente already looking at possible training facilities and press reporters checking out the local bars in Benelux, they were caught out completely by a Cyprus side who defeated them 3-2.
Clemente had been criticised for a disappointing performance in the World Cup in France and this was the last straw, and two days later José Antonio Camacho was named as the new manager. He immediately brought in several new players for a friendly with Russia, including midfielders Engonga, De Pedro, Ito and Alkiza, who scored the only goal of the match.
This was a revolution after Clemente's sides, who were largely made up of defenders. The more balanced approach, with Camacho not frightened to bring in on-form players and leave out Clemente's untouchables, was to have a spectacular result later in the qualifying tournament, although they did struggle in their next match against a tricky Israel side, coming back to win 1-2.
After a four month break, the next two qualifying matches in March proved the turning point, with an unbelievable 9-0 victory against Austria in Valencia and a 0-6 victory in San Marino in a period of four days. Raúl added a couple more notches to his growing reputation with four goals in the first match and three in the second, and three players who are now regulars in Camacho's sides, Valerón, Mendieta and Munitis made their debuts in official competitions.
After beating Croatia in a friendly 3-0, they pasted San Marino 9-0, with a hat-trick from Luis Enrique. At the start of the new season they came through a difficult match in Vienna to beat Austria 1-3, and then they ran riot on a hot night in Extremadura, taking revenge against Cyprus with an 8-0 drubbing. The Athletic Bilbao duo Guerrero and Urzaiz scored three apiece in the first hour, and Hierro scored his 23rd international goal near the end, making the Real Madrid defender the second highest goalscorer of all time for Spain (three behind Butragueño). They completed the formalities with a 3-0 victory against Israel, taking Camacho's record in the competition to seven wins out of seven with an incredible 40-2 aggregate, an average of 5.7 goals a game.