When Spain take on Slovakia next month in an all-or-nothing play-off for the 2006 FIFA World Cup Germany, it will not be the first time they have left it late to try and secure their berth at FIFA's showpiece event. Three times before their fate has been decided in the play-offs and the two-legged tie on 12 and 16 November will mark attempt number four.
Spain have been present at the last seven editions of the FIFA World Cup. The last time they failed to grace the finals was at Germany 1974, when Yugoslavia put paid to their hopes. With Germany the destination again this time, superstitious fans will be praying lightning does not strike twice.
The 1974 campaign saw the Iberians involved in a titanic struggle with Yugoslavia for the Group 7 qualifying berth, with the third team Greece well off the pace. After dominating the group, Spain and Yugoslavia finished level on points and were forced to contest a play-off in Frankfurt's Waldstadion on 13 February 1974. The Balkan side prevailed and marched on to the finals, a solitary goal from Josip Katalinski enough to break Spanish hearts. Now, 31 years on, Spain again find themselves having to contest the play-offs after Serbia and Montenegro pipped the Spanish to Group 7's automatic qualifying berth for Germany.
On this occasion, the Republic of Ireland were Spain's only opposition in Group 9 of the European Zone qualifiers. When the pair met in Dublin, the home side held sway (1-0), while the Spanish ran out comfortable 4-1 winners in the return match in Seville. However, with goal difference not yet in use as a means to separate teams, a play-off was required.
On 10 November 1965 at the Parc des Princes in Paris, Spain beat the Irish 1-0 to claim their place at the 1966 finals. The scorer of the winning goal was none other than former Atletico Madrid winger Armando Ufarte, currently Luis Aragones's assistant with the national team.
Only a play-off could separate Spain and Turkey in Group 6 after a 4-0 win for the home side at the Chamartin was cancelled out by a 1-0 Turkish victory at the Mithat Pasa stadium. This decider duly took place on 17 March 1954 in Rome, but a pulsating 2-2 draw left the issue no nearer to being resolved. In the end, the team to travel to the finals in Switzerland was settled by the drawing of lots. It fell to Luigi Franco Gemma, a 14-year-old from Rome, to don a blindfold and decide the sides' fates. Lady Luck deserted the Iberians on this occasion with Turkey getting the luck of the draw, and the last ticket to the finals.
Spain's most recent play-off was for a place at last year's UEFA European Championship in Portugal. Inaki Saez's men finished second to Greece in Group 6 and were forced to play a two-legged decider with Norway. They followed up a 2-1 win in Valencia with a 3-0 victory in Norway to take their place alongside Europe's top 16 sides in Portugal.
So after two wins and two defeats for Spain in major championship play-offs, will it be joy or despair at the fifth time of asking? All will be revealed on 16 November.