"What Spain gave me in club success, it took back with its national team," Denmark's Michael Laudrup told FIFA.com a few years back. And the price exacted by La Roja has been no small one either, with the history of games between the pair heavily skewed in the Iberians' favour.
Among the most painful for the Danes was their meeting in the Round of 16 at Mexico 1986, when a rampant Emilio Butragueno hit four goals in the 5-1 rout that sent them crashing out of the competition. No less agonizing was their defeat at the hands of La Selección in the semi-finals of the UEFA European Championship in 1984.
But today we turn the clock back to relive the dramatic Group 3 qualifier of 17 November 1993 that would decide which of them would reach the 1994 FIFA World Cup USA™. That memorable showdown on a cold Andalucian night was high on drama, with a match-winning performance by a debuting goalkeeper and a priceless goal from a legendary defender eventually settling the outcome.
17 November 1993, Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan Stadium, Seville
Spain 1-0 Denmark
Scorer: Fernando Hierro (63)
Spain: Andoni Zubizarreta; Albert Ferrer, Rafael Alkorta, Miguel Nadal, Fernando Giner, Franciso Jose Camarasa (Santiago Canizares); Fernando Hierro, Jose Mari Bakero, Andoni Goikoetxea; Luis Enrique, Julio Salinas (Kiko)
Denmark: Peter Schmeichel, Friis Hansen, Morten Olsen, Marc Rieper, Ivan Nielsen (J. Hogh), Kim Vilfort, Jensen, Larsen; Michael Laudrup, Brian Laudrup, Flemming Povlsen (Christensen)
The last matchday in Group 3 was not one for the fainthearted. Denmark came into it in pole position but just a point ahead of final opponents Spain and the Republic of Ireland, who were playing at the same time away to Northern Ireland.
Reigning European champions Denmark had already beaten Spain (1-0) in the corresponding qualifier in Copenhagen that March, leading some to question whether victory was beyond Javier Clemente's steely, defence-minded side. Faced with one of the most skilful Denmark teams ever assembled, Spain knew they would need every ounce of support from their passionate fans in Seville.
As if the task facing the home side were not challenging enough, fate intervened to give the visitors a helping hand with barely ten minutes played. Clearing from just inside his box, Zubizarreta inexplicably stroked the ball to Michael Laudrup just yards in front of him. In a desperate bid to rectify his error, the keeper then upended the attacker just inside the D to earn himself a straight red card.
Without even time to warm up, Santiago Canizares was thrown into the fray, where he would demonstrate remarkable agility and composure in the most pressurised of situations. His extraordinary performance that night included a string of decisive saves as the locals battled for the remaining 80 minutes with just ten men.
Adopting an ultra-defensive formation, Spain had little opportunity to create, and their few chances came from dead-ball situations. One of these was a corner from Goicoetxea on the right late in the second half. Capitalising on a botched attempt to intercept by Schmeichel, the iconic Fernando Hierro rose to head downwards into the right-hand corner, sparking an explosion of noise in the packed Estadio Sanchez Pizjuan.
The ordeal was not over yet, however, as the Scandinavians lay siege to the home goal for the remaining ten minutes. Once again, Spain were indebted to their keeper, who somehow got his fingertips to an overhead kick by Christensen from just six yards out to deny Denmark the point that would have taken them to USA 1994.
At 23, Canizares was waiting patiently to make his national team debut, with the No 1 jersey still very much the property of Zubizarreta. Though the young keeper can scarcely have imagined his introduction to international football would be in such dramatic circumstances, he proved more than up to the challenge. On the tensest of evenings he pulled off at least half a dozen critical saves, showing the reflexes and composure that had seen him concede the fewest number of goals in La Liga the previous season.
During the course of his long career, he would thrice more earn that distinction and go on to win 46 caps for Spain, encompassing three FIFA World Cups (USA 1994, France 1998 and Germany 2006) and three European Championships (England 1996, Belgium and the Netherlands 2000 and Portugal 2004). His club career took in spells at, among others, Celta Vigo, Real Madrid and Valencia, where the shot-stopper ended his playing days in 2008.
"I wasn't expecting to play, as I'd never come on as a sub before. I didn't feel any particularly strong emotion at the time, but I was prepared nevertheless. The real hero was the team, because every last one of them gave their all. For me it was the kind of opportunity you can't afford to pass up," Spain's Santiago Canizares.
"We had things under control and our destiny in our hands. It was a real pity to lose because of a mistake from a corner. When the final whistle blew, I cried with an anger every bit as intense as the joy I'd felt the year before on winning the European Championship," Denmark's Flemming Povlsen.
What Happened Next
The Republic of Ireland joined Spain at USA 94 after a 1-1 draw with Northern Ireland lifted them into second place ahead of Denmark. At the finals themselves, Spain were drawn in Group 2 alongside Germany, Korea Republic and Bolivia. After finishing runners-up in their section with two draws and a win, La Selección advanced to the Round of 16, where they swept aside Switzerland 3-0. As so often in their history, the quarter-finals then marked end of the road for the Spanish, with Italy on this occasion advancing at their expense with a 2-1 win.