Tuesday, 10 December 2013 4:35 PM
The nation held its breath as the Socceroos found out their World Cup 2014 opponents. And then, out came the number one team in the world, Spain.
They are the reigning World and European Champions and they are the first team to win three consecutive FIFA tournaments, Euro 2008, World Cup 2010 and Euro 2012.
Firstly under Luis Aragones and then under Vicente del Bosque, the Spanish have changed the face of modern football with their “tiki-taka” style.
Over the past five years, the Spanish architects, Xavi, Xabi Alonso, Andres Iniesta and Cesc Fabregas have proven that style can bring results, and then some.
Fernando Torres spearheaded the successful Euro 2008 side, scoring the only goal in the final, while David Villa was the striker as the side won the 2010 World Cup.
By Euro 2012, Spain was striker-less, playing with a “false nine”, ostensibly playing without a centre forward and instead an extra midfielder, making it more difficult for opposition defenders to mark a forward out of the game.
It worked, as Spain smashed Italy 4-0 in the final, in what is widely regarded as one of the all-time great performances.
David Silva and Jordi Alba scored and Italy hardly touched the ball as Spain put the game away by half time. Torres came on as a substitute and scored, before he set up his Chelsea team-mate Juan Mata, also a substitute, for the piece-de-resistance in the closing moments.
One might ask: where did this all start?
Spain was long considered the perennial underachievers when it came to major tournaments and prior to Euro 2008, they hadn’t won a major tournament since the 1964 European Championships.
Some fabulous players with illustrious club careers were unable to taste success for La Furia Roja (the Red Fury). Fernando Hierro, Raul and the 126-capped goalkeeper, Andoni Zubizaretta, all served Spain with distinction, but without international success.
As Euro 2008 approached, then-coach Aragones was blessed with the most talented generation to date. He decided that Spain didn’t have the physicality to beat teams in that manner, and so decided on a way of monopolising possession: tiki-taka.
The Spanish took Euro 2008 by storm and when they beat Germany 1-0 in the final, they graduated from underachievers to tournament winners. It was just the first step on their way to world domination.
Aragones was replaced by Del Bosque after the Euro 2008 final and by the World Cup in 2010, they were a well-oiled machine.
The 2010 World Cup final was marred by the Netherlands’ attempts to knock Spain out of their passing pattern and a spiteful match was the result, but Spain prevailed after an extra time goal from Iniesta.
In winning that tournament, Spain became the first European team to win a World Cup outside of Europe.
When Euro 2012 came around, the Spanish with their refined “false nine” system were unstoppable.
Their performance in the final was from another planet and the 4-0 win saw them become the first team to defend a European Championships, the first team to win three major tournaments in a row and Torres become the first player to score in two European Championships finals. It was also the largest winning margin in European Championships finals history.
The current Spain squad contains the nucleus of the squad that started their glorious era of success in 2008.
Goalkeeper and captain Iker Casillas may be out of favour at Real Madrid, but he remains first choice for Spain and now has 152 caps.
Xavi is not far behind with 130, while Sergio Ramos (115), Alonso (109), Torres (106), Carles Puyol (100), Villa (95) and Iniesta (94) are all experienced heads still in the mix.
Manchester City’s brilliant David Silva and Fabregas are still vital components of the squad, whilst Chelsea’s magnificent Juan Mata, Swansea City’s Michu and Tottenham’s Roberto Soldado remain on the fringes.
Their strength in depth is amazing, their football exhilarating and the Socceroos will get to experience it at close quarters at Brazil 2014.