At the end, it was difficult to divine which team felt more satisfied. Spain, among the favourites, had been held but had to come back to gain their point while Bulgaria had snatched a draw they might not have expected.
The Spanish coach, Javier Clemente, certainly, was dis-satisfied, accusing Hristo Stoichkov of gamesmanship. "Stoichkov is no good for us," he said. "He looks to get an advantage by unfair means, playing for fouls by putting his shoulder in and then falling down. He uses his elbows and even when he could play fair he doesn't want to."
The match, always entertaining, developed a furious tempo in the final half hour as first Stoichkov, notwithstanding Clemente's critique, the game's outstanding force, put the Bulgarians ahead with a 65th minute penalty which was equalised eight minutes later by Alfonso. The Real Betis striker had just taken the field as a substitute and the equaliser was his first touch of the ball.
The last time Spain were defeated was in the quarter-finals of the World Cup two years ago and they began with an understandable assurance. After 16 minutes Julen Guerrero should have put them ahead, shooting over from 12 yards after Jose Luis Caminero had given him time and space with a thunderous tackle on the edge of the area.
If this suggested a pattern was being set it was wrong, however, because the Bulgarians gained confidence as the match progressed, Yordan Lechkov skipping across the Leeds turf with some delightful runs and Stoichkov looking threatening every time the ball went near him.
Trifon Ivanov twice alarmed Andoni Zubizarreta with 35- yard shots in the first half but it was nothing to the Spanish keeper's consternation when Stoichkov, showing wonderful agility, volleyed spectacularly past him from Ilian Kiriakov's pass. The Bulgarian delight was cut short by the linesman's flag although the television replay suggested the Parma striker had been just onside.
The Spanish reprieve was transitory because Stoichkov's next intervention was a delightful pass that pushed Emil Kostadinov inside his full back. As he entered the area, however, he was brought down by Sergi, Stoichkov converting the penalty via a post.
Stung, the Spanish charged forward, and when Caminero burst through after 71 minutes Petar Hubchev was sent off for bringing him down. From Fernado Hierro's free-kick the ball rebounded to Sergi, whose shot was turned past Mikhailov by Alfonso from six yards.
That was the end of the scoring but there was time for Juan Antonio Pizzi to be sent off for scything Radostin Kishishev down and for Stoichkov to go tantalisingly close with a glancing header. At the end, not just the players were catching their breath.
Goals: Stoichkov (pen 65) 0-1; Alfonso (73) 1-1.
SPAIN (4-1-3-2): Zubizarreta (Valencia); Belsue (Real Zaragoza), Alkorta (Real Madrid), Abelardo (Barcelona), Sergi (Barcelona); Hierro (Real Madrid); Caminero (Atletico Madrid), Amor (Barcelona), Luis Enrique (Barcelona); Guerrero (Bilbao), Pizzi (Tenerife). Substitutes: Donato (Deportivo La Coruna), for Caminero, 82; Amavisca (Real Madrid) for Guerrero, 51; Alfonso (Real Betis) for Amor, 72.
BULGARIA (4-3-3): Mikhailov (Reading); Kishishev (Neftochimik Bourgas), Ivanov (Rapid Vienna), Hubchev (Hamburg), Kiriakov (Aberdeen); Lechkov (Hamburg), Yankov (Bayer Uerdingen), Balakov (VfB Stuttgart); Kostadinov (Bayern Munich), Penev (Atletico Madrid), Stoichkov (Parma). Substitutes: Yordanov (Sporting Lisbon) for Kostadinov, 72; Tsvetanov (Waldhof Mannheim) for Kiriakov, 72; Borimirov (1860 Munich) for Penev, 77.
Sendings off: Spain: Pizzi. Bulgaria: Hubchev. Bookings: Spain: Abelardo, Sergi, Caminero, Amor. Bulgaria: Kishishev, Yankov, Stoichkov.
Referee: P Ceccarini (Italy).
Man of the match: Stoichkov.