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The strangest World Cup exit ever? When Spain were eliminated on a drawing of lots

21:37 GMT+4 17/03/2020
World Cup Trophy
La Roja faced Turkey three times in the space of two months in 1954, but after a victory each and a draw, a different method was needed to split them

Since being adopted by the International Football Association Board (IFAB) in 1970, the penalty shootout has long been acknowledged as perhaps the cruellest way for any football team to lose a match.

Some of the most famous matches in history have been decided by spot kicks, including the 2005 Champions League final between Liverpool and Milan, as well as the 2006 World Cup final which saw Italy beat France.

However, penalties have not always been used to decide matches that end in draws and prior to 1970, and on March 17, 1954, an even crueller method was required – the drawing of lots.

Spain finished fourth at the 1950 World Cup and looked destined to reach the finals again four years later after being drawn with Turkey and the Netherlands in qualifying Group 6.

The Netherlands withdrew before the group stage began and Spain took advantage by beating Turkey 4-1 in Madrid in January 1954, with Venancio, Agustin Gainza, Miguel Gonzalez and Rafael Alsua all netting at the Santiago Bernabeu.

With goal difference and goals scored not counting for anything back then, La Roja only needed to avoid defeat in the return fixture in March to reach their third finals.

However, Burhan Sargun’s first-half strike for the hosts separated the two sides in Istanbul and that forced a replay at a neutral venue to be played to determine a winner.

Just three days later, the Stadio Olimpico in Rome played host to the play-off and it was Spain who took the lead through Jose Artetxe, before Burhan netted once again to level it up before half-time.

The second half saw both sides strike once more each and with extra time proving a fruitless exercise, they were still no closer to deciding who would reach the World Cup finals.

With a penalty shootout still years away from even being considered by FIFA, a drawing of lots was determined as the fairest way to decide a winner and 14-year-old Luigi Franco Gemma was given the dubious honour of picking.

Reportedly the son of a stadium employee, Italian teenager Gemma was blindfolded and picked Turkey out of the lots to send them through the finals in Switzerland at the expense of Spain.