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First among equals in pantheon of all-time greats?

Following their 4-0 destruction of Italy,the question on everyone’s lips is: Are Spain the best team ever to have played the game?

Written by Reuters | Kiev | Published: July 3, 2012 3:06:03 am

Following their 4-0 destruction of Italy,the question on everyone’s lips is: Are Spain the best team ever to have played the game?

A scientist would say it is a question that cannot be answered,because the Spain team who triumphed with such panache in Kiev,were not the same 11,or 14 players,who won the World Cup or who began their unprecedented treble by winning the 2008 Euro. Fans,however,are not restricted by such pedantry.

They are free to compare teams in whichever way they like — by a particular match,tournament,or even era. The bald statistics seem to make an incontestable case for the Spanish team of 2008-12. They are the only team to successfully defend the Euro title,claimed by some to be a harder tournament to win than the World Cup,which they also lifted in 2010.

They did not concede a single goal in any of the knockout round matches in those three events,let in only one in Euro ’12 and their 4-0 triumph was the biggest winning margin in any World Cup or Euro final. The nearest any previous nation has come to matching that level of consistency was the West Germany side who won the 1972 European title,followed by the 1974 World Cup but who then lost on penalties to Czechoslovakia in the 1976 Euro final.

That team,built on the defensive class of Franz Beckenbauer and the phenomenal strike rate of centre forward Gerd Mueller,triumphed in an era when Johan Cruyff’s classy Netherlands were vying for supremacy.

The Contenders

The only team to match Spain’s haul of three successive major continental titles were Argentina,who won the then-annual Copa America in 1945,46 and 47,while Italy’s World Cup triumphs in 1934 and ’38 were in a fledgling tourney with limited competition.

Any European country operating before the advent of their own continental competition in 1960 were obviously limited to the World Cup for tangible evidence of their power,which counts heavily against the Hungary team of the 1950s,who many claim to have revolutionised the way the game was played.

Inspired by Ferenc Puskas,Hungary won the 1952 Olympic football tournament and chalked up stunning 6-3 and 7-1 victories over England but that single blot on their record unfortunately came in the final of the 1954 World Cup when they lost to a West Germany side they had hammered 8-3 in the group stage.

Brazil then took up the mantle,winning the 1958,62 and 70 World Cups,though only Pele featured in all three competitions. If that makes it difficult to consider the Brazil team of that era as one entity — and they had a 40-year barren spell in the Copa America — then concentrating on the 1970 side is more fruitful territory. Held up by many to be football’s benchmark,the 1970 team were undoubtedly a complete package. Carlos Alberto,Tostao,Gerson,Jairzinho,Rivelino and Pele are names that trip off the tongue almost half a century after they also tore through a strong Italy side 4-1 in the final.

To suggest at the time that in future years a team playing largely without any forwards would be considered as superior would have been laughable,yet Spain’s own redefinition of the way rewards are reaped,make a strong case.

Not even the total football Hungarian or Dutch sides had such depth of talent. “We are talking about a great generation of footballers,” said coach Vicente Del Bosque. “This is a great era for Spanish football.”

For all football.

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