Belfast Telegraph

The night David Healy changed the face of the footballing world for ever

By Steven Beacom

All week we have been counting down the 50 most memorable moments involving the Northern Ireland team at Windsor Park.

The response has been fantastic. Clearly the list has struck a chord with many of you.

I'm not giving too much away by revealing that Northern Ireland's stunning 3-2 victory over Spain, when David Healy scored a hat-trick, is in the top 10.

You'll have to read Friday's Tele to find out where it finished. The reason I bring that particular game up is that tomorrow it will be seven years exactly since that epic evening at Windsor. September 6, 2006.

It was that European Championship qualifier in Belfast which changed the football world as we knew it and transformed Spain from nearly men lacking character to the best side on the planet with a winning mentality.

You may recall that during the game the visitors led twice only to be pegged back on each occasion by Healy. Late in the match he netted his hat-trick with a stunning lob.

For Northern Ireland it was a glory night, but for Spain it was a shocker.

There were calls for then boss Luis Aragones to resign.

Daily newspaper El Mundo said that Spain had "made fools of themselves" and El Pais labelled the result a "complete disaster".

Aragones accepted the blame for the defeat but declared he would not resign.

Instead he set about making major decisions that ultimately would prove hugely beneficial to the team.

Raul, who won his 102th cap at Windsor, never played for Spain again. Instead of building the side around the demanding Real Madrid striker, Aragones opted to make Barcelona midfielder Xavi his main man.

Spain lost their next qualifier to Sweden, but significantly the mood had changed in the camp.

There was greater desire and determination in the group and a greater sense of togetherness.

They went from a bunch of gifted individuals to a team filled with fire and a serious work ethic, which combined with their undoubted ability proved to be a potent mix.

Soon the Spanish started winning and they couldn't stop, first under Aragones and more recently with Vicente Del Bosque in charge.

They won Euro 2008, the World Cup in 2010 and Euro 2012 and are now regarded by many as the finest side international football has ever seen.

A few years after Healy's hat-trick, Aragones reflected on his nightmare in Belfast, saying: "After that game there were things that needed to be done for the good of football. Some players weren't performing as well as we would have liked and he (Raul) was one of them."

While Raul was discarded, Aragones kept faith with others humbled at Windsor like Iker Casillas, Sergio Ramos, Carles Puyol, Xavi, Xabi Alonso, Fernando Torres, David Villa, Cesc Fabregas, who came off the bench, and unused substitute Andres Iniesta.

They have provided the backbone of a team that has dominated the international scene since.

Speaking to Healy recently he was too modest to say that the victory over Spain and his huge part in it changed the footballing landscape.

But believe me, it did. That match seven years ago turned Spain into the force they are now.

Belfast Telegraph

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