Another tournament come and gone; with it, another photo of San Iker hoisting silverware in the air. In case you weren’t counting, in the past 6 years there have been 3 major international tournaments (no CONCACAF, you do not count), of those 3 tournaments, Spain has gone tres for tres. For someone who has only truly followed the world’s game for the past 10 some-odd years, that’s big chunk of my experiences. With a 4-0 win against Italy this previous Sunday, La Furia Roja have accomplished something that’s never been done before and poses the question on everyone’s mind; is this Spain the greatest football squad of all time?
Summer 2008 begins with myself sulking due to the fact that England failed to qualify for Austria-Switzerland’s big dance. Little did I know history was about unfold itself in the form of a few Iberians with a unique style of play and something to prove. While the golden boot went to David Villa, the likes of Xavi and Iniesta paved the way for a team who won every game they played. 9 out of the 23 players named to the UEFA Team of the Tournament wore the red and gold. (Russia was next with 4). So what if my precious three lions didn’t qualify for the Euro, there’s always the 2010 World Cup…right?
Torn between rooting for my home country or one that made me love the game, 2010’s World Cup was a rough one. Donovan vs. Rooney? Howard vs. whoever England picked out of the hat that morning? The internal struggle was quelled pretty quickly. Both teams failed to make it out of the knockout stage first round.Spain meanwhile, after a shaky start and a first game loss to Switzerland, came out on top of their group and surged into the final in Johannesburg.Portugal, Uruguay, Germany, Netherlands all fell to the tiki-taka-ers. While the Golden Boot went to Thomas Muller, the Silver Boot landed on David Villa’s foot. (Both players had 5 goals a piece but Muller edged out on assists). 6 out of 11 players for Spain were named to all-star team, with coach of the tourney going to Spain as well. Dos for dos.
Anywhere can be a football town if you want it to be. I spent the opening weekend of this year’s Euro in Philadelphia with ArizonaSecrets, something I looked forward to and feared for my life. On the one hand, I can enjoy the opening games with someone who follows and understands the sport to the same level as myself, on the other, he roots for Spain. The same Spain trying to three-peat, something I could not and would not stand for under any circumstances. As the first three days came and went (which included getting thrown out of one bar and my comrade being denied alcohol at another), the Spaniards tied Italy in their opening match. Then they became “Spain.” They flew through the rest of their group and enjoyed a laughable opening knockout match against the French. It was only then that they faced, in my mind, one of two teams that could possibly de-throne them; Portugal. Penalties decided it, and whether it was “injusticia” or not, it was on to Italy. 4-0, the biggest win in the history of the Euro. Did I mention David Villa wasn’t even there? 10 out of 30 Spaniards graced the UEFA Team of the Tournament (Italy was second with 5). Player of the Tournament went to Iniesta and Fernando Torres threw on the Golden Boot.Spain not only showed why they were the best in Europe but told the world they’re not going anywhere anytime soon.
Some nations wait generations for a chance at a major title, for Spain the right generation is here now. Football is a team game, Spain takes it literally. Every player on the pitch is effortlessly comfortable with possession-there is no individualism. Built on short quick passes, they treat the ball like gold, keeping possession and pressing relentlessly to retrieve when it’s lost. This style of play depends on a midfield able to control it. The ‘barca carousel of Xavi and Iniesta forms the backbone of a team who’s built to last; they’re the best central midfield pairing in the world and might be the best ever. Add Alonso, Silva and Fabregas to the quintet and you have the only team in the world with enough midfield depth to employ a 4-6-0 and get away it (7 of 12 goals came from Spain’s midfield). While the lack of a natural striker will only work for Spain, they can still play a center forward for only 189 minutes and have him win the Golden Boot. Add Iker Casillas, who’s only allowed one goal in the tournament, with a solid back line including Sergio Ramos and Pique, and it’s no wonder they were favorites.
Is this Spain the greatest football squad of all time? Who knows. What I do know is that for the past 6 years I’ve been watching history in the making; a dynasty built on teamwork in the truest sense of the word. I wish I could hate this team; say I’m sick of watching them and mean it, but I’d be kidding myself. You can’t not like them for what they are; and incredible generation of footballers whose accomplishments are only surpassed by the means they’ve accomplished them.