21 December 1983: Spain pull off unlikely win to reach Euro '84

Bonello watches on as he concedes yet another goal.
Bonello watches on as he concedes yet another goal. / SUR

  • La Roja needed to win by 11 goals against Malta and did just that; but recent revelations about the legendary 12-1 win have tainted one of the country's greatest sporting achievements

Until that moment, Spain had only scored 12 goals in their qualifying group for the 1984 European Championships. But on 21 December 1983, after the Netherlands defeated Malta 5-0 in the last of their games, Spain had a lot of catching up to do if they were to better the Dutch's +16 goal difference. They would need at least 11 if they were to reach the finals of the tournament in France the following summer.

Malta keeper, John Bonello, famously said: "Spain couldn't even score 11 goals against a team of children."

At half time at the Estadio Benito Villamarín in Seville, Spain led 3-1 thanks to a hat-trick from Real Madrid striker Santillana. However, they were still well short of the now 12 needed from the remaining 45 minutes.

What followed has since been described as the greatest moment in Spanish sport as the side hit nine goals without reply to seal passage to Euro 1984.

However, there have always been suspicions about what occurred at half time (many suspected bribery after Spanish and Maltese officials were seen meeting) but, according to accounts given in a documentary aired on Movistar+ in March, a number of Malta players believed that the Spanish players were on steroids.

Victor Scerri, then Malta head coach, suspected foul play the moment his team arrived. He said: "We arrived late but they wouldn't put the lights on to allow us to train in the stadium. Then they put us in a horrendous hotel where the noise kept us up all night."

Forward Silvio Demanuele added: "During the game the Spanish players had an unusual amount of energy, some were foaming at the mouth and drinking water constantly. My brother is a bodybuilder so I know the signs of taking steroids."

However, the accusations don't stop there. The coach said: "At half time a short man dressed in white came in and offered us sliced lemons. When the players sucked on them they reported feeling unwell and some asked if they had been drugged." Demanuele added: "It felt like I was drunk; like I'd been out all night."

There are also question marks over the referee on the night: "He was the worst I'd ever seen," said left-back Emanuel Fabri. "He let the Spanish players get away with everything and he kept saying things like 'let's go, play!' as if to hurry us up."