Euro 2012: Are Spain the 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? Get involved at #bbcfootball.

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.

Iker Casillas lifts the World Cup for Spain

Spain beat Netherlands to win 2010 World Cup

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.

Analysis

"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:

Sweden goalkeeper Kalle Svensson and Brazil striker Pele

Archive - Pele inspires Brazil to first triumph in 1958 (UK users only)

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.

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

Analysis

"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.

Pele celebrates after scoring in the 1970 World Cup final

Archive - Brazil beat Italy in the 1970 final (UK users only)

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.

Italy's Luigi Di Biagio and France's Thierry Henry

Euro 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 2000, adding steel alongside canny skipper Didier Deschamps, and the inimitable Zinedine Zidane was by then established as the world's leading player. His mesmerising performance against Portugal in the semi-final remains one of the most stylish in the competition's history.

Analysis

"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.