It remains Northern Ireland’s biggest result at a major championship and arguably, their most memorable in international football. Needing a win to progress to the second round of group matches, the Northern Ireland players knuckled down and produced a determined performance as they achieved what was needed to beat the FIFA World Cup 1982 hosts, Spain.
Billy Bingham named the same starting eleven as had ground out draws with Yugoslavia and Honduras in the opening two games; but not even the most optimistic of visiting supporters will have expected anything other than a home win. The Spain team was built around a core of Real Sociedad and Valencia players and boasted at the very least, the best goalkeeper in Europe, Luis Arconada as captain.
Of course, it was Arconada’s parry that lead to Garry Armstrong’s goal. After a break from the back by Armstrong himself and a dangerous cross from Billy Hamilton, the goalscorer was simply in the right place at the right time to power home one of the World Cup’s lasting memories. It was just two minutes into the second half and put unbeaten Northern Ireland top of Group 5.
The Spanish support were in ferocious and the noise that bellowed around the Estadio Luís Casanova, now the Mestalla Stadium, was unparalleled elsewhere in the competition. In the small amounts of footage available, the sounds of the crowd can often render the commentator redundant. The mood of the fans seemed to get to referee Hector Ortiz as he punished the visitors, rightfully, but let the Spanish players off with some blatant fouls – a shoulder charge on David McCreery just before half-time being probably the most cynical. To their credit, the Northern Irish players were the epitome of calm, sort of.
Mal Donaghy was sent-off in the 62nd minute for lashing out but the Spanish never really pressed the Irish goal as much as they could have done. Pat Jennings was called on a few times to make important saves, but he was rarely troubled as the Spaniards played without the intensity of a team fearful of their futures.
The other game in Group 5 had been played the night before and Yugoslavia’s 1-0 win over Honduras meant Spain progressed despite losing to Northern Ireland. The match wasn’t quite played to the same pedestrian levels as West Germany’s 1-0 win over Austria earlier that evening.
By itself, the loss to Northern Ireland didn’t sit well with the home supporters on the night, however they were appeased by knowing qualification to the second round had been achieved.
The result marked the first ever time Northern Ireland had beaten Spain in an international match.
Elsewhere in the tournament England progressed to the second round winning all three of their group games, Scotland drew 2-2 with the Soviet Union and went out at their expense by virtue of a poorer goal difference, Hungary’s 1-1 draw with Belgium meant that they were eliminated despite boasting a goal difference of +6 and infamously, Algeria were knocked out by the meddling of West Germany and Austria.
The BBC Sport website for the FIFA World Cup 2010 features extended highlights of the match and is well worth ten minutes of your time.
Northern Ireland Team
Pat Jennings, Jimmy Nicholl, Mal Donaghy, Chris Nicholl, John McClelland, David McCreery, Martin O’Neill, Sammy McIlroy (Thomas Cassidy), Gerry Armstrong, Billy Hamilton, Norman Whiteside (Samuel Nelson)
Final Score: Spain 0-1 Northern Ireland
Spain Goals: None
Northern Ireland Goals: Gerry Armstrong (47)