Spain are not unbeatable

OK, they are now. But they weren't always. Gary Lineker tells Sam Wallace about scoring all four in England's 4-2 win in Madrid in 1987... while Ugo Ehiogu, the last England player to score against Spain, recalls victory in Sven Goran Eriksson's first match in charge

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The Independent Football

When Gary Lineker boarded his flight to Madrid in February 1987 he was already well established as a Catalan hero with a hat-trick for Barcelona against Real Madrid in the Nou Camp the previous month. When he returned with his clubmates four days later he did so having gone one better, with four goals for England against Spain in one frenetic evening.

The story of Lineker's four goals against Spain 24 years ago was, as he remembers now, one of those nights when "everything fell nicely for me" and watching the footage of the 4-2 win now on YouTube it is hard to disagree. But as with the hat-trick against Real Madrid, all four goals for England were classic Lineker finishes: the split-second reaction that gets him ahead of defenders and into position – and then the unerring finish.

Of course, the Spain team of 1987 was nothing like the level of the Spain side that England will face at Wembley tomorrow, but they were a decent side and, as Lineker told The Independent yesterday, the game was played in an era when friendlies were taken a lot more seriously. "Spain had threatened for a while at Mexico '86 when Emilio Butragueno scored four goals in one game against Denmark," Lineker said.

"Spain had good players in that team, the likes of Gallego, Carrasco, Julio Alberto and Victor. It's fair to say that it was nothing compared to the kind of team that they have now but that did not detract from the sense of achievement we felt at going to Madrid and winning."

Lineker flew to Madrid with his Barcelona team-mates, including the goalkeeper Andoni Zubizarreta, whom he would put four goals past at the Bernabeu. At the time, Terry Venables was the manager of Barcelona and, while he spoke good Spanish, Lineker says, he had also taught some of his players a bit of his native Dagenham English.

"At the end of the game, Zubi came into the England dressing room, walked over to me and said in a perfect Cockney accent "Facking hell", which was very funny at the time. It was a memorable evening for me, especially scoring four goals against so many of my Barcelona team-mates. Less than three weeks before I had scored a hat-trick against Real Madrid. It was a bit of a golden time for me.

"In those days managers would play their strongest sides in friendlies. I think that has changed a wee bit of late. I don't remember there being a really big crowd in Madrid that night [it was just 35,000] and the weather was really cold. It can get like that in Madrid in winter. I think they cleared snow off the pitch before that match so the conditions perhaps suited us more than them.

"To be perfectly honest it was just one of those nights, one of those lovely nights, when everything broke for me. For one of the goals a shot came off the keeper and fell just right for me. I think two or three of them were close range. That sort of scrambled – I mean 'beautiful' – goal. And then there was one really good finish [the fourth] when I took it on one side and knocked it in the corner."

None of them was a classic. The first was a back-post header; the second was put away after a knockdown from Viv Anderson and the third was a header from close range after a shot blocked by Zubizarreta looped up in the air. The fourth? It was a beauty by comparison. Lineker took the ball on his right foot before darting between two defenders and getting his shot away with his left.

Lineker's long-standing agent, Jon Holmes, recalled that the game against Spain was also the first night that his client was contracted to wear his new Quasar boots, with whom he had recently signed an endorsement. Sadly, for those of us who grew up on 1980s football, the Quasar brand is no more although when Lineker remembers his first game playing in Quasar boots it is not hard to see why.

"I put them on for the first time and, to be honest, they were a bit heavy," he said. "I thought, 'Oh blimey, I've got to wear these and they are not quite the finished article.' As it turned out I managed to score four goals, although a couple were with my head. The funny thing was that by the end of the game one of the soles was already hanging off my new boots."

It is striking that Lineker remembers Spanish football in very different terms to how it is regarded now, as the very height of sophistication and success in the modern game. "When I was in Spain it was, in many ways, quite an aggressive style of football," he said. "They decided they needed to change. They invested heavily, Barcelona in particular, and now they have seen the rewards.

"We have always been aggressive but in Spain they had the same thing. The tackle on Diego Maradona by Andoni Goicoechea [in 1983, in which the Argentine's ankle was broken] was a big moment in Spanish football. They did kick a bit. I got my fair share as a centre-forward. The change in the law means that you can't go around kicking people. The game has evolved massively. Now the Spain team is as good a footballing side as you will see.

"The day after the four goals the headline in the Catalan sports newspaper Sport was "Catalan player scores four" so there was that attitude towards the Madrid-Barcelona rivalry. The fact it is dominated by Barcelona players now shows it has moved on."

Ugo Ehiogu recalls victory over Spain in Eriksson's first match in charge

Who was the last footballer to score an international goal for England against Spain? You have to go back more than a decade and four friendlies until you arrive at 28 February, 2001, and Ugo Ehiogu's goal in the 70th minute of England's 3-0 win over Spain at Villa Park.

That was the last time England beat the current world champions, whom they face at Wembley tomorrow, and in the three games since then, in Madrid, Manchester and Seville, they have lost every time, not scoring once. Go back to 2001 and the mood was very different, with Sven Goran Eriksson taking charge of his first game as England manager and the wind of change sweeping through the team.

Ehiogu remembers a "vibrancy" about Eriksson. Then 28, he believed he had a chance of breaking through with England. "It was refreshing," he told The Independent yesterday. "He [Eriksson] had picked so many players who would not normally have got in. Chris Powell started the game. It was a nice change. You felt you were going to get a chance. In previous squads you had felt that it was a closed shop unless you played for one of the big clubs."

By then Ehiogu was at Middlesbrough, having made his England debut against China almost five years earlier on the infamous pre-Euro '96 Far East tour. Then he was a back-up for Tony Adams, who was carrying an injury but eventually was passed fit for the tournament. Ehiogu did not make the cut for the final squad and by the time Eriksson picked him in 2001, the Spain game was only his second cap.

The Spanish team that played England at Villa Park that day included Pep Guardiola, Raul, Ivan Helguera and Iker Casillas, past whom Ehiogu scored his goal. "I can remember it well. It was a Frank Lampard corner from the left in front of the Holte End," he said. "I got free and put it away with a bullet header. It was a bit surreal really. You know you have really arrived when you end up celebrating a goal with people like Sol Campbell."

Ehiogu won only two more caps for England, his last coming against Italy in March 2002, although he was in many squads. He had a good chance of making the 2002 World Cup squad but was injured playing for Middlesbrough in the FA Cup semi-final against Arsenal that year and did not recover in time.

"In those days with Sven there wasn't much said," Ehiogu recalled. "I came on at half-time against Spain and there was no instructions beyond 'Get stripped off, you're coming on'. There was no big talk. He certainly had a feeling of calmness about him. Being back at Villa Park it was so nice for me to score, especially at the Holte End, having spent nine really good years there.

"I think I came on for Rio [Ferdinand], although I couldn't be sure because there were so many changes [six] at half-time. I know that I played alongside Sol and that we had one scare at the back but that was about it. I wasn't that interested in their team."

Ehiogu retired two years ago after a stint at Sheffield United and is now halfway through his Uefa B licence coaching qualification. His other interests include co-presenting a weekly show on Colourful Radio, working as a football agent and his investment in the record label, Dirty Hits. Ideally one day he would like to use the experience of an 18-year playing career as a coach and, potentially, a manager.

"The way in which Spain school their players is obviously something we would all like to follow," he said. "But if we want English footballers to be as good as them then something really has to change."