Spain: Molina; Michel Salgado, Hierro, Paco,
Aranzábal; Etxeberria (Mendieta 70'), Guardiola, Valerón
(Iván Helguera 80'), Fran (Alfonso 70'); Raúl, Urzaiz. 4-4-2.
Norway: Myhre; Heggem, Bragstad, Berg (Eggen 60'), Bergdolmo; Bakke, Mykland, Iversen (Riseth 90'), Skammelsrud, Solksjaer; Flo (Carew 70'). 4-5-1.
0-1. 65. Iversen. Headed ball out of Molina's hands after clearance by keeper.
Hello, Borja Pantzov here, your European correspondent for SOCCER-SPAIN. I suppose nobody else can write these pages you know, with an international background like mine, having a Catalan mother and a Bulgarian father. My mother thinks he was Bulgarian anyway, as he said he was a cousin or something of Hristo Stoichkov, her hero. My father didn't speak much English, just 'I love you' and 'voulez vous coucher avec moi ce soir', and when she asked him what his name was he said 'Getxa Pantzov'. Anyway, I will be writing these pages over the next couple of weeks.
Well it's finally started, and what an unhappy start for my mother country (or my mother's country at least). Everything started badly with the day they fixed for this game, Tuesday the 13th. In the North of Europe you have Friday the 13th, in Spain it is 'martes trece', Tuesday 13th which brings bad luck. Camacho laughed it off - my father was born on the 13th of whatever month in 1913, he said. Maybe his father should have played then, he would certainly have done better than most of the players on the park. Or maybe our manager should have remembered that we played Nigeria two years ago on the 13th, although a Saturday, and we lost that one too.
Whatever the case, it happened again and we lost to a Norway side 50% bigger than our boys whose best tactic it seemed was to run under the legs of the giant Vikings and head-but them in the nuts. Seriously though Norway had five players in their squad over 1.90, and the tallest Spaniard was 1.88. Norway's manager Nils Johan (ah, Johan!) Semb had done his homework, and obviously knew Spanish football well. Who had beaten all the top Spanish sides this year? Alavés! How had they done it? Well he only had to read the reports of my colleague Manuel Labor (weeks 26 through 34) to find out. 'Pack the defence/midfield with nine players, with one veteran alone up front. Eggen substitutes the injured xxx, Alavés score late on and win 1-0 etc., etc.' That name rings a bell! Check the telephone directory, ah yes, Eggen, he's one of ours!
And so it was. Eggen sat on the bench waiting his chance, and Flo played alone up front, with Solksjaer and Iversen playing further back than with their English clubs. Camacho meanwhile played with his expected line up, with Raúl and Salgado recovering from injuries in time to make the team. Hierro took the captain's armband at the back, with Molina finally getting the nod in goal and Fran taking the left midfield spot rather than the right footed Mendieta. As predicted, Urzaiz joined Raúl up front.
I'm sure you've read a lot about the game, so I won't bore you with the details. Well, let's try anyway (got to live up to my name). First half: Etxeberria's shot grazed the crossbar early on, Solksjaer headed against the other crossbar, Myrhe saved from Urzaiz, Molina saved from Solksjaer. Second half: more happened. Raúl just missed out following up after Myhre blocked Fran's shot. Eggen came on, then came the goal. And what was Molina thinking about? Maybe which club he will be signing for after the championship, or how much he will be earning or something. Meanwhile Myhre cleared a long ball and it bounced up into the penalty area. The Spanish keeper looked up from his reveries, and before he could get forward Iversen nipped in to head it over him into the empty net. After that Egyptian referee Ghamal El Ghandour (since when was Egypt in Europe?) become the first official to penalize a goalkeeper under the new ruling for taking more than six seconds to release the ball. Egyptian seconds must be shorter than European seconds however, or maybe El Ghandour just wanted to get in the record books, as Myhre seemed to clear the ball quick enough. In any case Spain fluffed the resulting indirect free kick, and Camacho brought on two subs, Mendieta and Alfonso, to liven the game up. Semb took off Flo and put on another of his giants Carew, who respectfully shook hands with his new captain, Mendieta, (he will be joining Valencia next season) before both of them came on. Mendieta did go close, but in the end the game ended 1-0 to Norway, and there was much wailing and gnashing of teeth in Spain.
At least there is never any trouble at the matches with our country, and if you are a genuine fan and don't want to go to those matches where violence may break out, then get tickets for one of Spain's matches. In fact there is more chance of violence on the pitch than off it the Spanish league (my colleague Manuel is still waiting however for the Celta striker to lose his cool with a supporter, as he has already written the headline 'where were you when Turdó hit the fan?'). Anyway, Camacho may make some changes for the next match against Slovenia, with my favourite Mendieta and Alfonso likely to come in, and Sergi, Abelardo and Cañizares possibly starting as well. Zaragoza's striker Savo Milosevic did us a favour at least, scoring twice to draw against our next opponents to share a point each. Thanks to that, if we win this one, then a draw against Yugoslavia should be enough to get us through to the quarter final. However, with either France or Holland as the next opponents, I don't think we'll get much further. We'll cross that dike when we get to it though. Right now, it's 'animo España', and let's beat Slovenia. See you in a couple of days.