Madrid: Backdoor entry into the 2004 Euro championship finals in neighbouring Portugal was not what Inaki Saez’s talented Spaniards had in mind at the start of their qualifying campaign.
None of their group 6 rivals — Greece, Ukraine, Armenia and Northern Ireland — appeared to pose a threat to the country whose domestic league is regularly lauded as technically the best in the world.
But a 0-1 home loss to Greece in June and then a goalless stalemate in Northern Ireland derailed their campaign, unlike a Euro 2000 qualifying series which saw them hit Austria for nine to qualify in style and directly.
The Greeks’ six straight wins means they sneak through in pole position to leave Spain in a play-off dogfight as they dream of a second European title after 1964.
Despite their ‘failure’, Saez and company were breathing fire after swatting Armenia 4-0 in Yerevan. “I don’t think we need to rely on luck. We have plenty of quality in the squad. I think this match showed we have what it takes,” said Saez.
Goalkeeper Iker Casillas insisted that Saturday’s showing has blown away the doubts and said his teammates relished the play-off challenge.