Spain: Best Team of All Time?

Spain thrashed Italy 4-0 in the final of Euro 2012 in Kiev on Sunday to win their third major tournament in a row. Vicente del Bosque led his side to an emphatic victory in Ukraine to become the first coach to win a World Cup, a European Championship and a Champions League title.

Spain have now won the last two European Championships and the last World Cup in South Africa. So are they the best national side to play the game?

BBC Sport looks at the contenders and asks the experts for their views. Who do you think is the best team?

Spain 2008-12
BBC chief football writer Phil McNulty

The debate began long before Spain’s goalkeeper and captain Iker Casillas lifted the trophy at the end of the Euro 2012 final. In fact the debate began long before the end of the tournament in Poland and Ukraine.

Such was the scale and artistry of their 4-0 win against Italy that they staked the most eloquent claim to be the greatest international team in history.

When the template for the all-time great sides is assembled, Brazil’s legendary World Cup-winning side in Mexico in 1970 is invariably used. It was built around legends like Pele, Tostao, Jairzinho, Rivelinho and Gerson – and many more besides in a marriage of team work and individual brilliance.

Martin Keown – Football Analyst

“Spain are going to dominate for years to come. They have to be the best side ever. I can’t see any other team getting near this. Spain have really set the bar high and they have time on their side. They’re beautiful to watch and there’s something extra special about this team. They’re a group of winners.”

Germany have had great sides through the ages and Argentina won World Cups in relatively quick succession in 1978 and 1986 – but has anyone ever had a tighter stranglehold on the world game than Spain?

They have now been untouchable in three major competitions and already few would back against them in South America when the World Cup goes to Brazil in 2014.

They are the ultimate combination of silk and steel. They conceded one goal in Euro 2012 and have the Barcelona “carousel” of Xavi and Andres Iniesta augmented by Real Madrid’s Xabi Alonso in midfield.

Del Bosque felt confident enough in this brilliant side to ignore the claims of a conventional striker such as Fernando Torres, although he made a devastating late contribution against Italy.

David Silva and Cesc Fabregas more than compensated – and it was all done without their great goalscorer David Villa and iconic defender Carles Puyol.

The greatest? It would have to be a very powerful argument against Spain.

Brazil 1958
Tim Vickery, South American football expert

“Brazil 1970 are usually wheeled out when the debate gets going on the best international side of all time. But take away the advantage of television – Mexico 70 was the first World Cup screened all over the globe – and their predecessors from 12 years earlier have a much better claim.

On a man-for-man basis it is a no contest. It is hard to think of anyone from the 1970 side who would have walked in to the 58 team. And Brazil of 1958 had so much that was new. Their pioneering use of a back four gave them defensive cover – Brazil did not let in a goal until the semi-final, where they beat France 5-2.”

Alan Shearer – BBC Sport

“This Spain team is the best ever. We mention the Brazil sides with Pele but this is absolutely unbelievable what they have achieved.”

There were attacking full-backs and dangerous free-kicks. Their preparation – with physical specialists, doctors, dentists and even a premature experiment with a sports psychologist – broke new ground. And with the collective side of their game right, the individual talent could flourish. While Pele and Garrincha were both on the field, Brazil never lost a game.

They were the first Brazilian winners of the World Cup – and remain the only South American side to have lifted the trophy in Europe. And they also kept on winning. Only a controversial last-minute refereeing decision prevented them claiming the 1959 Copa America, and they successfully defended their title in the 1962 World Cup, despite losing Pele, then at the peak of his powers, in the second game.

They beat Spain on the way – it would be fascinating to see them up against the Spain of today.”

France 1998-2000
French football journalist Matt Spiro

“France’s crowning moment came when they won the 1998 World Cup on home soil, yet the team that clinched the European crown two years later was a far more complete side and is widely regarded as the nation’s best ever.

Use accessible player and disable flyout menusEuro 2000: France victorious over Italy
While goalkeeper Fabien Barthez and the powerful back four of Lilian Thuram, Laurent Blanc, Marcel Desailly and Bixente Lizarazu were imperious in both competitions, Roger Lemerre’s team also displayed an enviable attacking swagger.

Patrick Vieira excelled in midfield in 2000, adding steel alongside canny skipper Didier Deschamps, and the inimitable Zinedine Zidane was by then established as the world’s leading player. The schemer’s mesmerising performance against Portugal in the semi-final remains one of the most stylish in the competition’s history.

Alan Hansen – Football Analyst

“The first-half performance by Spain in the final was superlative and they should go down as the best team in history. Their technical ability is better than anyone we’ve seen.

“We will be talking about that first-half display for 30 or 40 years.”

In attack, Les Bleus were blessed with a deadly cocktail of talent. The speed and skill of Thierry Henry and Nicolas Anelka, David Trezeguet’s potency, Youri Djorkaeff’s trickery, and the guile of Christophe Dugarry invariably left opponents floundering as 13 goals were plundered in six games – one more than Spain this year.

Like Vicente del Bosque’s current Spain team, France had extraordinary depth – as the final victory over Italy demonstrated.

They were on the verge of defeat when substitute Sylvain Wiltord struck a late leveller. In extra-time, two more players sent on by Lemerre – Robert Pires and Trezeguet – combined to conjure a sublime golden goal.

It was a fitting way for this incredibly tough, gifted and ruthless team to sign off.”

Do you have anything to add? Please leave a comment below:

View From the Spire: Blatter the devil you know

Sepp Blatter’s abstinence, and the involvement of other Fifa bureaucrats, today has caused conflict, disrespected the World Cup competition and has brought about embarrassment to what is normally a brilliant game.

The culprit: a high profile strike by England’s Frank Lampard that to everyone but the referee, clearly bounced two feet on the net side of the goal line before bouncing back into the field of play.

Interestingly, in December, Blatter and his committee of cronies advised: “Referees shall remain human, and we will not have monitors to stop the game to see if we are right or wrong. There will be no more discussion [between fans] and then no more hope and then no more life.”

In this simple statement, and with the turn of events this fine afternoon, Blatter has vowed not to step far from tradition and singlehandedly altered the beautiful game and the competition that he is enormously overpaid to run.

However, this is merely the tip of the iceberg. Should the finger of blame lie directly pointed at the Football Association and the Premier League? Two organisations who have played a part in the current situation (and honest truth) that the England National team are not as good as they, their governing organisations and the British media believe them to be. The Football Association who employ foreign team coaches who do not appear to speak the language, actually manage any of the team or are too stuborn to see the sizeable error of their ways – or the Premier League, owners of the greatest league in the world, that in some cases is bringing the beautiful game in England to its knees by the significant involvement of foreign talent to the detriment of home grown players who have to look overseas or lower down the pecking order to secure a career and a chance of some exposure?

Whatever the reasoning, and with the furore surrounding the media hype in the England National squad, the English will no doubt dispute the possible outcome of the game due to lack of goalline technology until the end of time.

The fact still remains though, despite an unfortunate disallowed goal, and barring an eight minute period before half time, England and the overpaid players were played off the pitch, brushed aside and firmly delt with yesterday by a German side who are still gathering pace in what will now (without England) finally be an interesting and unbiased World Cup.