How Spain can dominate for years to come
Posted: 5 July 2012 Time: 12:38
It was supposed to be their crowning glory. A third title in four years on the football field, the culmination of a decade or more of exertion, evolution and excellence.
But as Spain strode to Euro 2012 success on Sunday in Kiev, an incredible idea hit home: what if this is just the start?
Already immortalised by victory in Austria and Switzerland at Euro 2008, and then again with a World Cup win in South Africa, Spain made it three of the best in Poland and Ukraine. But why should they stop now?
Next up is the World Cup in Brazil, in two years' time, a competition the hosts will be desperate to win, having failed to claim football's finest honour since 2002 and, above all, after the ignominious manner in which they lost out to Uruguay in front of their own fans in 1950.
That may have been over 60 years ago, but Brazilians have long memories – and they remain haunted by the shadow of the 'Maracanaco'.
Playing on home soil and with expectation at an all-time high, Brazil will be a threat, while Argentina will look to finally maximise their potential with triple Ballon d'Or winner Lionel Messi within their ranks. Germany, Italy and possibly Portugal all come into contention, too, but at the moment, the smart money will be on Spain.
Far from a final fling, Euro 2012 saw Spain cement their status as the world's best team. And they are not done yet, either. Indeed, a glance down the Roja roster will make ominous reading for their opponents by the time the next World Cup comes around.
Spain's oldest player in the continental competition was Xavi, at 32, and the Barcelona midfielder claimed after the win over Italy that he has every intention of continuing for two more years if he is still feeling fine. And given the way he takes care of himself, there is every chance of that.
Xabi Alonso will be 32 in 2014, while Andres Iniesta will be somewhere around his peak at 30, the same age as Fernando Torres, and goalkeeper Iker Casillas will be a still-sprightly 33.
Alvaro Arbeloa is the only other (outfield) Spain star present at Euro 2012 who is approaching his third decade and the full-back will be 31 by the time the World Cup kicks off, but he is hardly indispensable anyway.
The same cannot be said for sidelined pair Carles Puyol and David Villa. In the end, Spain coped without the Barca duo, but had they been fit, they would have been in the team.
Puyol will be 36 in 2014 and has struggled with injuries over the past two seasons. Villa, Spain's all-time top goalscorer with 51 strikes (and 33 under Del Bosque) is 31 later this year and has shown signs of fading in his time at Camp Nou. He has also failed to fully recover from a broken leg sustained in December and must be a concern for Brazil 2014.
On the evidence of Sunday night, however, and the competition as a whole, the duo may not be needed in any case: Spain's defence conceded just once in 570 minutes, while the goals came in the end as well.
The rest of the squad remains youthful: Gerard Pique will be 27 in 2014, Sergio Ramos 26, Jordi Alba 25, David Silva 28, Juan Mata 26, Javi Martinez 25. Many of those players will be approaching their peak and scarily, Spain may yet be even stronger in two years' time.
Behind them there will be more fresh faces pushing for inclusion, too. Athletic Bilbao attackers Iker Muniain and Ander Herrera both starred for Spain's under-21 side in their own continental crown last summer, alongside club colleague Martinez, and will be in contention for a call-up in 2014.
So too will Barcelona youngsters Martin Montoya, Isaac Cuenca and Cristian Tello, while the brilliant Gerard Deulofeu could make an impact in time for a place at Euro 2016, having shone in Spain's youth sides already, and Thiago Alcantara seems certain to step up following his full debut late last year.
Then there's Real Madrid's right-back Dani Carvajal, still only 20, who is pushing for a place in the first team at the Santiago Bernabeu, along with striker Alvaro Morata, just 19 and also waiting for an opportunity under Jose Mourinho.
Atletico Madrid's Adrian seems one likely inclusion, having just missed out this time, while Malaga's Nacho Monreal could compete for a full-back role and Catalan Oriol Romeu - currently at Chelsea - is another alternative for the midfield.
Just how many of those will make it in 2014 or 2016 is ultimately unclear, but Spain could in theory take the same squad to Brazil in two years and it would still be a young team.
So with Del Bosque set to stay on until the next World Cup at least, Spain's star seems more likely to rise than fall in Brazil. A dynasty has been built already. Now, absolutism awaits.