It’s hard to believe Spain were once international football’s great choke artists.
Heading into the upcoming round of Brazil 2014 qualifiers (they’ll host Belarus and Georgia and need only three points to seal automatic progression to the competition). La Roja are World Cup holders and have also won each of the last two European championships.
A core group of players—Xavi Hernandez, Andres Iniesta, Cesc Fabregas and Iker Casillas—has delivered unprecedented success to Spain over the past half-decade and more, and as many of them get along in years it begs a fascinating question.
Are there nations that could replicate Spain’s success on the international stage? In other words, are there national squads that could conceivably win three major competitions over the next five years?
The following is a look at five possibilities, in alphabetical order.
Argentina booked their place in an 11th successive World Cup last month and will conclude their qualification campaign with upcoming matches at home to Peru and away to Uruguay.
Ladbrokes has Argentina second-favourites to win the 2014 World Cup at 5.50/1.
Starring in 2014 & 2018: Sergio Romero, Federico Fernandez, Ezequiel Garay, Angel Di Maria, Ever Banega, Erik Lamela, Sergio Aguero, Lionel Messi
Starting XI, 2014: Romero, Zabaleta, Fernandez, Garay, Rojo, Gago, Biglia, Di Maria, Aguero, Messi, Palacio
Starting XI, 2018: Romero; Zabaleta, Fernandez, Garay, Rojo; Banega, Biglia, Di Maria, Lamela, Messi, Palacio
Much of Argentina’s current core of players is 26 years old or younger, including talisman Lionel Messi. It’s hard to fathom the best player in the world retiring without having won at least a single World Cup, and over the next five years he’ll have the opportunity to win a pair.
Belgium are assured of at least a playoff spot and can book an automatic place in the 2014 tournament by taking a single point from upcoming qualifiers away to Croatia and at home to Wales.
Ladbrokes has Belgium seventh-favourites to win the 2014 World Cup at 17/1.
Starring in 2014 & 2018: Thibaut Courtois, Vincent Kompany, Thomas Vermaelen, Jan Vertonghen, Kevin De Bruyne, Marouane Fellaini, Mousa Dembele, Eden Hazard, Christian Benteke, Kevin Mirallas, Romelu Lukaku
Starting XI, 2014: Courtois, Alderweireld, Lombaerts, Kompany, Pocognoli, Fellaini, Dembele, Chadli, Mirallas, Lukaku, Hazard
Starting XI, 2018: Courtois, Alderweireld, Vermaelen, Kompany, Pocognoli, Fellaini, Dembele, Chadli, De Bruyne, Lukaku, Hazard
Rarely is a generation of up-and-coming internationals so large, so deep at every position and so capable of producing magic. Belgium manager Marc Wilmots is spoiled for choice when it comes to his selections, but so long as the Red Devils have the likes of Courtois, Kompany, Hazard and Lukaku at the core they’ll contend in every competition they enter.
As World Cup hosts Brazil will continue their streak of competing in every World Cup since the first tournament proper in 1930. They recently beat Spain in the final of the Confederations Cup and will benefit from partisan support next June and July.
Ladbrokes has Brazil favourites to win the 2014 World Cup at 4.33/1.
Starring in 2014 & 2018: David Luiz, Thiago Silva, Marcelo, Lucas Moura, Oscar, Bernard, Luiz Gustavo, Paulinho, Hulk, Neymar
Starting XI, 2014: Julio Cesar, Dani Alves, Thiago Silva, David Luiz, Marcelo, Paulinho, Luiz Gustavo, Hulk, Oscar, Neymar, Fred
Starting XI, 2018: Jefferson, Rafael, Thiago Silva, David Luiz, Marcelo, Luiz Gustavo, Paulinho, Oscar, Lucas Moura, Neymar, Bernard
Brazil have an all-world player in Neymar just entering his prime and a solid central defense supported by elite, holding midfielders who also know when to join the attack. Although mostly a conglomeration of positional specialists, there are enough special pieces in this Brazil side to keep it in contention thru the 2018 World Cup in Russia.
Germany will punch their ticket to the 2014 World Cup if they take at least a point from their remaining qualifiers at home to the Republic of Ireland and away to Sweden. They have progressed to the semifinals of each of the last five major tournaments they have entered.
Ladbrokes has Germany third-favourites to win the 2014 World Cup at 6/1.
Starring in 2014 & 2018: Manuel Neuer, Mats Hummels, Benedikt Howedes, Jerome Boateng, Marcel Schmelzer, Sami Khedira, Mesut Ozil, Julian Draxler, Andre Schurrle, Toni Kroos, Mario Gotze, Thomas Muller, Marco Reus, Max Kruse
Starting XI, 2014: Neuer, Lahm, Hummels, Boateng, Schmelzer, Schweinsteiger, Kroos, Muller, Ozil, Draxler, Gomez
Starting XI, 2018: Neuer, Lahm, Hummels, Boateng, Schmelzer, Khedira, Kroos, Muller, Ozil, Draxler, Volland
There is a slight drop-off in the generation of underage Germany internationals following the current group, but in Neuer, Hummels, Kroos, Khedira, Muller, Ozil and Draxler Die Nationalmannschaft will still go into the 2018 World Cup cycle with plenty of quality and a core that has already played together for almost a half-decade.
Why not? After all, their dominance may not end here. The group of players that have already won a pair of European Championships and the 2010 World Cup will be one of the hot favourites to repeat in Brazil. Nipping at their heels is an up-and-coming collection of talent that has won back-to-back UEFA Under-21 Championships. Spain may yet take some toppling.
Ladbrokes has Spain fourth-favourites to win the 2014 World Cup at 6.5/1.
Starring in 2014 & 2018: Gerard Pique, Jordi Alba, David Silva, Sergio Busquets, Juan Mata, Cesc Fabregas
Starting XI, 2014: Casillas, Arbeloa, Ramos, Pique, Alba, Xavi, Busquets, Xabi Alonso, Silva, Fabregas, Iniesta
Starting XI, 2018: De Gea, Carvajal, Martinez, Pique, Alba, Thiago, Illarramendi, Mata, Isco, Iniesta, Morata
In the likes of Isco, Asier Illarramendi and Thiago it would seem La Roja are set in the midfield for the next decade. Many of Spain’s U-21 stars have already been called into the senior side, and following the 2014 World Cup the manager will be tasked with blooding them into the setup. Another five or 10 years of dominance could await.