17/04/2002 Belfast Spain 0-5
Maik Taylor (Roy Carroll), Ian Nolan, George McCartney, Aaron Hughes, Mark Williams, Damien Johnson, Keith Gillespie (Pat McCourt), Kevin Horlock, Stuart Elliott, David Healy, Warren Feeney (Lee McEvilly)
The Green & White Army paid tribute to the Northern Ireland team that beat Spain at the World Cup in 1982 who formed in the centre of the pitch before the game.
This was Northern Ireland’s heaviest home defeat in 37 years. A host of player withdrawals presented a makeshift side to face Raul, Gaizka Mendieta, Fernando Hierro and company. The final number of withdrawals from the original squad numbered 13! In the pouring rain a double from Real Madrid superstar Raul, one from Baraja and Ruyol and a brilliant fifth goal from Morientes Spain were on a different planet to Northern Ireland’s patched-up side.
Baraja almost scored a sensational sixth in the last minute when his chip from just inside the halfway line hit the crossbar.
At least it was a good night for Rochdale, who finished the night with two newly capped internationals on the field in Pat McCourt and Lee McEvilly.
A year later however, a gutsy performance saw Northern Ireland with a full strength squad draw 0-0 with virtually the same Spanish side in a Euro 2004 qualifier.
“I’m very frustrated and I’m very down. I’m still downhearted and no-one likes getting beat 5-0 in games no matter what players are out. I’ve never quit on anything in my life and I won’t quit at this. The crowd have been magnificent to me and that gives me hope to carry on and try and turn our fortunes around. I think they know what a difficult job it is, especially with so many people missing.”
“I would love to be able to make Northern Ireland a force again like Billy Bingham did. But if you go back all those years did we have the cry-offs that we do now? It just didn’t happen. Hopefully when I have my best team available, I can turn it round and I will be doing my best to turn it round. I just hope I can get a squad that I can say `right, I’ve actually got a squad capable of giving teams a good game’. You need your top players whether you’re playing Spain or Liechtenstein, you need your best players.”
“I can’t fault my players and they gave their all considering what we had out. But having said that there were still a couple of their goals I think that could have been avoided. Two set-pieces and Roy Carroll could have done better with one that’s come away from him. Other than that they are a class side and compared to my boys they are a fantastic side. I feared the worst after the two quick goals after half-time. They stepped up a gear in the second half and they brought on substitutes which shows you the type of squad they are and why they are one of the favourites for the World Cup.”
“I hope that next time we meet them we are not in the same situation. Hopefully by then we will be a little bit stronger. That’s no disrespect to the lads in this squad, but we had at least six or seven experienced players missing. Ever since I’ve had the job, there have been people missing. Not two or three, but seven and eight and 13 this time. It’s unbelievable and it makes you think, `What’s happening?’ Hopefully we will have them back for the return. That will be a difficult game even with a full squad, but I think we could give them a better game.”