Euro 2012: Spain are now one step away from being the greatest team of all time
SPAIN have taken their place among football’s all-time great sides by becoming the first team to successfully defend the European Championship after winning the World Cup. The task, now, is to be remembered as the greatest.
The team will now look ahead to the 2014 World Cup in Brazil to retain their title from two years ago in South Africa. If they succeed, it will be virtually impossible to deny them the moniker of best team ever.
On Sunday, Spain thumped Italy 4-0 in the Euro 2012 final to secure an unprecedented third straight major title for a European team. The riveting display was the most lopsided scoreline produced by any winner of a European or World Cup final.
“The bar has been set very high,” midfielder Xavi Hernandez admitted. “The expectations are high. Now everyone will expect us to always triumph, and it’s better that way. Before it was more difficult.”
The Spaniards improved with every game of a month-long tournament in which they were at times criticised for being boring for playing possession-based football and starting some matches with six midfielders instead of a recognised striker.
Spain certainly have done an impressive job of winning games since Luis Aragones’ side swept to the Euro 2008 title with flair, and his replacement Vicente del Bosque has stayed true to Spain’s “tiki taka” – or quick-touch and free-flowing – style.
Del Bosque became just the second coach after West Germany’s Helmut Schoen to win European and world titles. He has tinkered a little and although the Spaniards didn’t always roll in the goals in Poland and Ukraine, they have shown the maturity, patience and confidence of veteran champions.
The former Real Madrid coach was criticised for playing without a traditional striker and relying on attacking midfielders like Xavi, Andres Iniesta, David Silva and Cesc Fabregas to carry the attack. All four were involved, to one extent or another, in each of the four goals on Sunday.
Spain effectively neutralised opponents through possession, with their heavy passing game tiring them and creating the chances they needed to break through. And the defence has been as reliable, too. “What we do is difficult but we make it look easy. It wasn’t a walk in the park,” said goalkeeper and captain Iker Casillas, who hasn’t conceded a goal in the elimination stages of a tournament since the 2006 World Cup, a run of ten games. “We won being true to our playing style, and by moving the ball the we way we moved it, we knew how to take charge of the match.”
Since that European Championship triumph in Vienna four years ago, Spain became the first team to win 15 straight competitive fixtures and matched Brazil’s record 35-game unbeaten run from the 1990s. Spain qualified for the last two major tournaments with maximum points and are unbeaten in 20 straight official games.
West Germany and France are the previous World Cup champions who failed to win that coveted third straight trophy. Winning three straight titles including a World Cup has also eluded Brazil.
Spain’s next task will certainly be their biggest test as they will have to win in 2014 in Brazil, a nation that has won five World Cups and produced arguably the greatest national team ever. “Our performance was complete,” Iniesta said. “I never could have imagined this.”
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