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Spain: Memories of famous night as Malta keep it in the family

Tonight, we play Malta in a match which, for a whole generation of Spaniards, brings back memories of THAT 12-1 win; a historic thumping that a nice chap by the name of John Bonello had the misfortune to be in goal for. I interviewed him a couple of days before the game at Seville airport, and he was hurt by the mere suggestion that he could concede 11. As it turned out, he let in one more than that, and it wasn't even his fault; he was his side's best player. Some time later, I went to Malta for a lovely family holiday, and found out first-hand that any mention of the match was not welcome. What in Spain is such a happy memory, a night that was the springboard for a generation, is taboo out there. No-one wanted to talk about it. And if they did, it was in hushed tones and, more often than not, came with tawdry insinuations...

That was a long time ago, of course. Yet now we come back up against the Maltese, and lo and behold: their keeper is none other than Henry Bonello, the son of the man beaten 12 times at the old Benito Villamarín. What a night that was! It was a turning point; that day, Spain shook off the general aura of pessimism surrounding a national football team which, it was said, was going nowhere, and was no more than a spiritless rabble of players who cared only about their clubs and not a jot about their country. The collective faith that team showed in accomplishing the nigh-on impossible - winning by an 11-goal margin in a game in which they had to win by an 11-goal margin (have you seen many more examples of that?) - served as an inspiration to those who would go on to previously unthinkable achievements.

So, as Spain prepare to take on Malta, I can't help but look back on that occasion. This time it's not in Seville, but in Valletta. It's not the class of 1983, but that of 2019. It's not John Bonello, the best Maltese performer on that famous evening, but his son. Malta it remains, though; an island, a national side which is, albeit reluctantly, part of one of the beautiful game's epic feats. There was the silver medal in Antwerp in 1920, Zarra's goal against England in 1950, Marcelino's European title-winning header against the USSR in 1964, the Malta thrashing, and finally the glorious reign of dominance between 2008 and 2012. In short: Malta was a milestone moment in the history of Spanish football. Today's may seem like a nothing game, but it evokes images of a crucial, crucial night when there was also a Bonello between the sticks.