Filed under: 2014, Euro 2012, European Football, International Football | Tags: 1970, Brazil, Brazil 1970, Brazil 2014, Buffon, Carlos Alberto, Cesc Fabregas, David Silva, David Villa, Fernando Torres, Gerard Pique, Gilmar, Greatest Team Ever, Iker Casillas, Iniesta, jairzinho, Nilton Snatos, Pele, Puyol, Spain, World Cup, World Cup 2014, Xavi
…so does that cement their claim as the greatest team ever? Instinct tells me no, but at the very least Spain has earned a comparison to the great international teams of the past. Before any of that discussion begins, however, we must pay homage to a dominating performance in the final. Spain was in remarkable form and took advantage of some poor defending to make a very good Italian side look very bad.
Each of Spain’s four goals was a thing a beauty. David Silva’s header was amazing. Heading the ball on the run to the upper-90 of the far post is a difficult task. Although that placement was not needed, it was perfect. To me the set up was even more impressive. Cesc Fabregas’s decision to take an extra touch in the box on a great scoring opportunity was a risk that paid off when his defender hesitated in anticipation of an early cross. Xavi’s feed to Fabregas was perhaps the simplest execution of a perfect pass and run in the entire tournament. Italy was shaky in defense all day, but that pass was unstoppable. The other goals looked very simple, but don’t be fooled into confusing perfect execution with easy goals. A vertical pass on a vertical run should never beat a good defense, but it was executed with enough precision to make sloppy defending appear downright amateur. The third goal saw Fernando Torres make Gianluigi Buffon look like an average goalkeeper, which he is not. Simply put, Spain put together an operatic performance in the finale of Euro 2012. Clearly Spain are the best team in Europe and it would be hard to argue against their global supremacy, but the question remains as to where Spain ranks against the best international teams of all time.
Personally, I prefer the 1974 – 1978 Dutch team’s style and dominance, but it would be a complete injustice to Spain’s three trophies to compare them to a team that twice choked away World Cup trophies. That only leaves the 1970 Brazilian squad for comparison. In 2007, World Soccer magazine voted that team the best team of all time. While the 1970 Brazilian team won all six of its matches, it would be unfair to define both teams in the isolation of a single competition. Brazil won the 1958, 1962 and 1970 World Cups and won smaller competitions in between, bringing their trophy total to six in twelve years. Spain has won the last two European tournaments and the 2010 World Cup to claim 3 trophies in 4 years. Clearly trophy count will not separate these two teams and that is probably appropriate since both squads deserve more analysis before being dismissed as the second-best team of all time.
Let’s look at the stars then. Spain boasts talents like Xavi, Iniesta, Fabregas, Torres, David Villa, Puyol, Pique and Iker Casillas. Brazil was led by Pele and Carlos Alberto, goalkeeper Gilmar, Nilton Santos and a young Jairzinho. This list offers more questions than answers. Clearly, the Spanish names have more recognition today, but does that mean they are better players than the Brazilians? Gilmar was a great goalkeeper, but so is Casillas. How can you ever pick against Pele? Does the Brazilians group stage exit in 1966 without a healthy Pele damage the rest of their squad’s credibility? After all, Spain won the last Euro without the lethal David Villa. For me, that might tip the scales in favor of the Spanish, but to dethrone Brazil here because of a single failure due the absence of the greatest player ever in the middle of the longest international dominance the sport has ever seen seems arbitrary and cruel. It seems to me that the simple answer is to invent a time machine and settle it on the pitch. Barring that, Spain will have to win in Brazil in 2014 to claim a clear superiority. I can only imagine the pressure on the modern Brazilian team in the final against a Spanish side looking to usurp the claim as best team ever while their national heroes and current holders of that claim sit in the stands and watch.
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