Luis Enrique goes down, stretches his arm up and rolls around on the lawn. A little later he jumps up, seeks a confrontation with the opponent, holds his face and falls over again. Blood spurts from his nose, his facial expressions are a single accusation. But there was no conviction at Foxborough Stadium on July 9, 1994. Referee Sandor Puhl from Hungary does not want to have seen Enrique recently struck down by the elbow of Italian Mauro Tassotti. In the Italian penalty area, in stoppage time of the quarter-finals of the World Championships in the USA, when the score was 1: 2 from the Spanish point of view – the later final score.
“He wanted to kill the referee and Tassotti, and then me too, when I grabbed him,” said Spanish physiotherapist Senen Cortegoso about the angry Luis Enrique. “Lucho”, as they called him in Spain, was 24 years old at the time, a little bundle of energy, spirited, proud – and broken twice after the final whistle. In his heart because of the injustice that had befallen him and Spain and physically because Tassotti’s elbow had smashed his nose.
The image of Luis Enrique weeping, sitting on the grass with a bloodied shirt on, has burned itself into the collective memory of an entire generation of Spanish football fans. “We lost, no matter how good we were,” said José Mari Bakero once in the Tagesspiegel. He himself played 65 minutes against Italy in 1994 and later watched the Enrique scene from the bench as a substituted player. In fact, the Spaniards often had strong teams in the 1980s and 1990s, but they reliably failed when it mattered. Gladly in the quarter-finals and even better on penalties.
On the other hand were the Italians, who seldom played nicely but often got far. 1994 to the World Cup final, 2000 to the European Championship final. In 1982 and 2006 it was even enough for the world title. “Italy was our counterpart in this regard. Your teams always had this self-confidence and this will to win that we lacked, ”said Bakero, remembering that time. Until 2008, the Spaniards had never won a competitive match at an EM or World Cup against Italy.
For 14 years the Spaniards suffered from Tassotti’s elbow at Foxborough. The Italian himself quickly fell victim to the perpetrator. According to the TV images, the AC Milan defender was subsequently removed from the 94 World Cup tournament: “I was suspended for eight games and that was the end of my adventure in the national team. I made a mistake and fate presented me with the bill. I still regret it today, ”said the then 34-year-old Tassotti last year to the Spanish newspaper“ El Pais ”, not without bitterness.
In 2021 there could even have been a duel between Enrique and Tassotti at the EM. The Italian was the assistant coach of the quarter-finalists Ukraine, Luis Enrique is in charge of the Spanish national team. But now it turns out differently: Italy – of course – is waiting in the semifinals. And the now 51-year-old Asturian is not deterred and stubbornly goes his way. In his homeland, this earned him a lot of criticism, verbally aiming almost as much in Enrique’s face as Tassotti’s elbow in 1994.
Before the semi-final duel, almost all of Spain has gathered behind Luis Enrique, 27 years after his last game against the Italians, he now has the opportunity to take his own personal revenge. The signs are different now: Spain has now overtaken the Italians. In 2008 and 2012 the team became European champions, and in 2010 also world champions.
In 2008, the Spaniards finally defeated their Italy curse at the European Championships
The reason for the big title era was the European Championship quarter-finals in Vienna’s Ernst Happel Stadium in 2008. At the time, almost nothing happened for 120 minutes, with a penalty shoot-out in which the Spaniards were finally able to defeat their curse. “We knew that if we beat Italy, we could beat everyone else too. Then we’ll win the tournament, ”the third goalkeeper Andres Palop once recalled in this newspaper. He and many others in Spain will not forget what coach Luis Aragones said before the game: “Prepare to win.”
Perhaps this victory and the subsequent European Championship title also made Luis Enrique milder. In 2011 there was a reconciliation with Tassotti. Enrique was coach at AS Roma at the time, his former opponent was assistant at AC Milan. Before a game between the two clubs they shook hands: “It has now been 17 years and that also means that we are 17 years older. I have no problem with him, ”said Enrique at the time.
In 2012 Italy and Spain met twice at the European Championship finals. A 1: 1 in the preliminary round was followed by a show of force with the 4-0 victory of the Iberians in the final. Spain was at the height of its footballing creativity, the favorite enemy was dismantled according to all the rules of the short-pass art.
In the meantime the balance of power has shifted slightly in favor of the Italians. At the EM 2016 they knocked out Spain 2-0 in the round of 16 and in the current finals, it is Italy that inspires with great football. Spain, on the other hand, rumbled through the tournament almost Italian, in five games there was only one win after 90 minutes. But before the semi-finals on Tuesday in London’s Wembley Stadium (9 p.m. / ARD and MagentaTV) there is cautious optimism. “Of course it would be ridiculous not to think about making it to the final when you’re in the semi-finals,” said Enrique, who she suddenly believes can do just that at home.
Before the tournament it looked very different. There was interference from Madrid in particular because Sergio Ramos had been kicked out by Enrique and, moreover, not a single Real player was part of the squad. Enrique had once enforced his Asturian stubbornness, as he had often done in his career. In Rome he fought with legend Francesco Totti, at FC Barcelona Xavi first had to mediate to settle the dispute between Enrique and Lionel Messi.
For a long time, the bloody nose of Foxborough was the image with which Luis Enrique almost became an icon in Spain. In the meantime, his perception at home has changed. Enrique got up again and again, even after the death of his nine-year-old daughter from cancer, who interrupted his career as national coach for a few months in 2019.
Against this background, the fact that he now denies that he still has an outstanding account with Italy appears credible. Nevertheless, a victory over his eternal rival would be one of his greatest sporting events – other historical references are made for Luis Enrique.
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