España 82 - Elche - Nou Estadio Elche

Manuel Martinez Valero had a dream. He wanted the World Cup to come to Elche. Not an obvious location, even allowing for the fact that Elche CF was a first division stalwart, when the tournament was initially awarded to Spain in July 1966. Even less likely when you consider that Elche's home at the time was the ancient and crumbling Campo Altabix. But Manuel Martinez Valero was made of sterner stuff, having almost single-handedly transformed Elche from sleepy backwater to vibrant modern city, thanks to the expansion of his shoe industry. He wasn't going to let the fact that the town had no suitable venue stand in the way... No Señor.

With the redevelopment of the cramped Altabix site out of the question, Martinez Valero  purchased land to the east of the town for 29 million pesetas. Work on the site commenced in the autumn of 1974, even though planning permission had not been granted. There were problems brewing however.  The local municipality would not allow the whole of the Altabix site to be redeveloped, nor would they contribute to the purchase of the land for new stadium. A government grant also failed to materialise and the president’s plan to part-finance the stadium by selling parking spaces raised little in the way of hard cash. The build continued despite the increasing debt and on the 8 September 1976 the stadium was officially inaugurated with a friendly match against the Mexican national team. At this stage the stadium actually consisted of a single open tier with upper seated tiers on the sides and held 28,000. The government grant finally arrived once Elche had been confirmed as a host venue, and so just a couple of years after it opened the stadium, the upper was complete, increasing the capacity to 53,000. Elche staged three matches featuring Belgium, El Salvador and Hungary, but the capacity was never remotely tested. However, some of those who did attend witnessed history in the making, when the rampant Magyars trounced El Salvador 10-1. Renamed the Estadio Manuel Martinez Valero in 1988, it is an awful lot of stadium for such a small city. Read more about the stadium here.
From shoe box (Altabix top left) to more palatial surroundings
Those that criticised the expansion of the World Cup to 24 participants were given plenty of ammunition following this trouncing. Whatever the rights and wrong of the argument, we all like to watch a right-hammering don't we? Sit back and watch a piece of World Cup history.

So Belgium, conquerors of World Champions Argentina less than a week previous, were up against an El Salvador side that had been on the end of a record defeat only four days earlier. Another shoeing in the offing? Well thanks to some heroic defending, great goalkeeping and a lack-lustre Belgium attack, it turned out to be nothing of the sort.

Despite racking up a record score for the tournament, Hungary still needed to win this game to progress. Unfortunately, they wasted a hat-full of chances and then conceded a late equaliser to head off home after just three games.