Hyperbole Warranted, Acknowledge Spain’s Greatness
It was said they win ugly – that their style of play was a detriment to the world’s beautiful game. They execute the three-yard pass with a confidence usually reserved for the red-flag wielding matadors of Madrid’s finest arenas. They force opponents to bus-park inside their own final third, relinquishing almost the entirety of possession to the world’s greatest midfielders, and creating 1-0 deficits that seem impenetrable. Their approach yielded titles at 2008’s Euro and 2010’s World Cup but always seemed met with a serious of question marks from the world’s leading football journalists.
Sunday – under the bright lights of Kiev – it was Spain who shone brightest and erased the any doubt of their greatness. Greatness in the truest sense of the word. Tiger Woods. Rafa Nadal on clay. The late-90s New York Yankees. Spain ’08 – ’12. That’s the level of greatness we’re encountering. Sunday they provided their signature victory; the signature victory of this dynastic era. And no one saw it coming.
It was only a few days that this Italian side, led by the Pirlo renaissance, found the offensive complement to their reliable defensive resistance in the form of the enigmatic/insane Mario Balotelli. Super Mario’s thrashing of the German centre halves and physical dominance had many wondering if Italy were not poised to upset both of Euro 2008’s co-favorites and claim their most surprising title yet. Ninety minutes and four goals later the story of Euro 2008 had been written with one word defining the Spanish performance: Unparalleled.
Here are two stats to floor any neutral: (1) Spain has not allowed a goal during a knockout match in any of the last three major tournaments they’ve entered and won. (2) Before Sunday only one player had won two Europeans titles. After Sunday? Thirteen. (Thanks to Grant Wahl and the folks from Football Daily, the Guardian’s podcast, for those stats.) There are a dozen or so more stats telling the same tale.
Are they the greatest football team in international history? Perhaps not though I’d like to see them go 90 minutes with the famed 1970 Brazil side. Is their current accomplishment, three consecutive major titles, the greatest in the history of international football? Yes. Yes. 100% yes.
Brazil looms in 2014 and there will be a special pressure on this Spanish side. Not the pressure of country or media. Not even the pressure top sides face with the bulls-eye focused squarely on their backsides. No in 2014 Spain face the pressure of eternal legacy. Another victory and the question will no longer be “are Spain the greatest international footballing team of all time?” Another victory and the question will be “are Spain the greatest team, in any sport, we’ve ever seen?”