Sports

Spain and England meet in Euro 2024 final but it isn't a classic, deep-rooted international rivalry

BERLIN — (AP) — The Women's World Cup final. Now the men's European Championship final.

For two pre-eminent soccer countries, Spain against England is hardly a classic and deep-rooted international rivalry but back-to-back title matches in the space of 11 months at major tournaments could yet usher in the start of one.

For some, Spain's 1-0 victory in Sydney in August in the biggest match in women's soccer was overshadowed by what happened afterward, when Spanish federation president Luis Rubiales kissed star player Jenni Hermoso on the lips during the trophy ceremony to spark a player rebellion, a reckoning on gender and ultimately his removal from power.

What will Sunday’s Euro 2024 final bring?

What we do know is that Spain has been the best team in the tournament and England has been the ultimate survivor, having come from behind in all of its knockout-stage games.

More unknown is how the teams match up because, somewhat refreshingly in the modern age, they haven’t met in any game — competitive or otherwise — since a pair of Nations League qualifiers in 2018, and not in a major tournament since the European Championship in 1996.

Here are the highlights from the 27 meetings between the men’s teams of Spain and England since the first in 1929:

PEARCE’S REDEMPTION

It is one of the defining images in the history of English soccer: Stuart Pearce crunching home a penalty and letting it all out in an emotionally fueled celebration that brought him to tears at Wembley Stadium. It was the Euro '96 quarterfinals and England and Spain were in a shootout after a nervy 0-0 draw. Six years earlier, Pearce had been one of two England players who failed to score in a shootout loss to Germany in the World Cup semifinals. Here he was again, stepping up for his country and this time delivering. After the ball hit the net, he briefly stopped then repeatedly punched the air and shouted “Come on” to the fans as he wept. England won the shootout 4-2, with Fernando Hierro and Miguel Ángel Nadal missing for Spain.

FOUR-GOAL LINEKER

The best individual display in a Spain-England game came from Gary Lineker, who scored all four of England’s goals in a 32-minute span in a 4-2 win in an international friendly in 1987. The game took place in Madrid and Lineker played at the time for Barcelona, making him something of an enemy for fans in the Spanish capital. It was classic Lineker, too, with his first three goals being finished inside the six-yard box — where he was lethal — before he completed his quadruple with a left-footed strike from near the penalty spot. Lineker scored another four-goal haul against Malaysia in 1991. Three weeks before the Spain game, Lineker netted a hat trick against Real Madrid at Barca's Camp Nou.

ZARRA'S WINNER

The first of the teams' two meetings in the World Cup came in 1950, when England was coming off one of its most humiliating defeats ever — 1-0 to the United States in Belo Horizonte, Brazil. Three days later, Spain ended England's campaign with a 1-0 win at the storied Maracana in front of more than 74,000 spectators. Telmo Zarra, the Athletic Bilbao great whose status as La Liga's record scorer was taken by Lionel Messi, grabbed the 48th-minute winner for Spain, which advanced to the final four only to finish bottom of the group. The other World Cup meeting was in 1982, which Spain hosted, and it was a 0-0 that ultimately eliminated both countries from the three-team group stage in the second round.

HEAVIEST WIN

The biggest margin of victory in matches between Spain and England came in their second meeting, in 1931. England won 7-1 in an international friendly at Highbury, the former home of Arsenal, with three players — Jack Smith, Tommy Johnson and Sammy Crooks — each scoring twice. Spain's biggest win over England was 3-0 in a friendly in Madrid in 1960, when Eulogio Martinez scored twice for a star-stacked team containing Alfredo Di Stefano and Francisco “Paco” Gento.

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AP Euro 2024: https://apnews.com/hub/euro-2024

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