Is the current Spanish national team the greatest side in history?
The question is asked of any team accomplishing above the wildest expectations. The answer is harder to find through each sport, especially soccer.
Soccer is the most frequently played sport with the most competition on an international, national and club level. Each of these levels have changed since their inception.
Style of play, physicality of players and even the ball are some examples of what has changed through the years. These changes make choosing the best side to ever play extremely difficult.
Here are five reasons that Spain's current team should be considered among the best of the best...
Today's Spanish national team is filled with marquee players from the world's top club teams. Just look at the starting 11 for the World Cup 2010 final:
Iker Casillas (Real Madrid), Sergio Ramos (Real Madrid), Gerard Pique (Barcelona), Carles Puyol (Barcelona), Joan Capdevila (Benfica), Sergio Busquets (Barcelona), Xabi Alonso (Real Madrid), Xavi Hernandez (Barcelona), Andres Iniesta (Barcelona), Pedro Ledesma (Barcelona) and David Villa (Barcelona).
Ten players of this starting 11 belong to powerhouse clubs Barcelona or Real Madrid, with the exception of Capdevila. These are players who are tasting glory on the Barcelona side, often considered the greatest club team to ever play the game. The others aren't far behind with Real Madrid, almost always in the top two at the end of Liga play.
Whenever Real Madrid and Barcelona meet on the pitch, we can expect sparks to fly.
The end of the most recent Spanish Super Cup is shameful, but it is a testament to how much the teams do not like each other.
Despite the feud, the same players we see in shoving matches during Liga Clasicos come together whenever the national team calls on their services. The result is nothing short of magic.
The national team isn't all just Madrid and Barcelona. The rest of the team is made up mostly of players who also play in La Liga, thus creating an atmosphere of familiarity among the team. Weaknesses and strengths are observed not only while the team is together, but exploited against each other during club play.
There is a balance on the Spanish side. An understanding of each player's skill set brings a cohesive style of play, where the tika-taka fundamentals dominate opponents.
Spain has dominated the international stage, winning the 2008 Euro Cup and the 2010 World Cup. Neither trophies came with ease or against easy opponents.
In 2008, Spain began Euro Cup play in a group which included defending champions Greece. The Spanish won every game in the group stage and found themselves playing then-World Cup champions Italy in the quarterfinal. That match was decided on penalties.
Spain found themselves in a group stage rematch with an aggressive Russia but was able to cruise by with a 3-0 victory.
Next up came an always relevant and tough Germany. The Spaniards squeaked by with a 1-0 victory on a 33rd minute goal from Fernando Torres.
The 2010 World Cup was no less a challenging task for the favorites.
The Spanish began the tournament losing 1-0 to Switzerland, a loss which shocked the world. No team had ever won the World Cup after losing the first game.
Spain ended up doing just that, coming out on top of their group and defeating every elimination round opponent by a score of 1-0.
The opponent list on the track to victory is impressive. The Spaniards knocked off Portugal, Paraguay, Germany and Holland, in that order, all by one goal and never conceding one—historic numbers against historic teams.
The road doesn't get any easier once Euro Cup '12 and World Cup '14 come around.
Between November 2006 and June 2009, Spain tied the record for longest undefeated streak at 35, which Brazil also claims. The streak also includes a record-breaking 15-game consecutive win streak.
Three years is a long time to go undefeated, especially when one of the world's toughest competition, the Euro Cup, lies at the heart of the streak.
Being tied for such a record with only one other team (Brazil, winners of five World Cups; Spain has only one) proves Spain's dominance over the current soccer world and grants them mention among the greatest sides to ever take the pitch.
The Spanish have always has one big disadvantage against them. They are a much smaller squad than the rest of the international field.
In order to address this advantage, the Spanish have relied on one of the most enjoyable and effective styles of play, tiki-taka.
This style of play focuses on quick passes and fast movement among players. Passes are quick, mostly one-touch with movement of players around the ball creating open channels of passing to almost any position. It is Johan Cruyff's "Total Football" style on steroids.
Many team's simply cannot keep up with tiki-taka. At times it may take the Spanish almost the entire match, and even extra time (see World Cup 2010 final) to finally put the ball in the back of the net. Regardless, other teams' ball possession and passing statistics pale in comparison to the Spanish, often never even scoring because the Spanish are too busy sending the ball around the pitch.
It also doesn't help opponents when those utilizing this style are among the best players in the world, including Xavi Hernandez and Andres Iniesta.
Say what you will about the style, but it works, and back-to-back major international tournament victories are evidence of its effectiveness.