Spain to reign at Euro 2012

By Guy MowbrayBBC Match of the Day commentator
Spain celebrate winning Euro 2008
Can Spain become the first country to retain the European Championship?

With huge apologies to my wife, I have to confess I've never been that great at recognising beauty. Be it the Arts, a scenic view or even house decor, I just don't have the eye for it.

But it is a different matter when I get to see football played as it was by Spain at times during their final Euro 2012 qualifier against Scotland.

I say "at times" because, despite the 3-1 defeat, the Scots had a couple of spells of pressure when there might just have been evidence of slight vulnerability in the world champions, but more on that later.

Co-commentator Mark Lawrenson and I went to Alicante in the hope of describing a story of Scotland upsetting the odds to reach the qualifying play-offs but we always knew that the more likely task would be assessing Spain's progress since their 2010 World Cup win.

The conclusion we came to was that they have got even better - and must be favourites to go all the way in Poland and Ukraine next summer to become the first team to retain the European Championshipexternal-link.

They have qualified with a 100% record and have equalled a sequence set by great France and Netherlands teams of the past by winning their last 14 competitive internationals.

I could quote a number of other statistics that tell you just how nigh-on unbeatable they seem at the moment but only by watching them live do you really see how good a squad of footballers Spain currently possess.

Against Scotland the team was supposedly "under strength".

Iker Casillas, Raul Albiol, Xabi Alonso, Andres Iniesta, Cesc Fabregas, Juan Mata and Fernando Torres were among those who did not get a game, either through injury or because coach Vicente Del Bosque chose to leave them out. No matter; the passing was as metronomic and mesmerising as ever, and all who played impressed.

At left-back, Valencia's Jordi Alba had an excellent debut. Assured in defence and quick to join in every attack, he looks a much better bet than either World Cup-winner Joan Capdevila or Real Madrid's Alvaro Arbeloa, who would much prefer to play on the right. Liverpool's in-form Jose Enrique can't even get a look in.

In midfield, Sergio Busquets was missing Alonso, his regular holding partner, but found Santi Cazorla to be equally adept alongside him. The versatile midfielder, who has just joined wealthy Malaga, also offers a bigger goal threat than Alonso when he gets the chance to push forward, which against Scotland happened regularly.

Pedro was lively down both flanks, David Villa waited patiently for his inevitable goal, Xavi was just Xavi and played wherever he wanted, and the overall star of the show was a player who did not even get on in the World Cup final - David Silva.

Superb for Manchester Cityexternal-link last season, Silva has gone up a level to be the golden boy for club and country since the summer. His two goals were brilliantly worked, with the first finishing off a sequence of 41 Spanish passes.

The fact that he played as the main forward with the country's record goalscorer Villa on the left shows just how fluid the team system is. When a recognised striker is needed through the middle, Athletic Bilbao's Fernando Llorente has got the fans' vote ahead of Chelsea's Torres to be first off the bench.

So on to that slight vulnerability. When I asked Lawro during the game who could beat Spain next summer he replied, "maybe only themselves".

When a team is that good there is bound to be a confidence that borders on arrogance and just occasionally they can overdo it. No two in the squad strut more than defenders Sergio Ramosexternal-link and Gerard Piqueexternal-link and, once or twice, they had to rely on their speed of recovery to prevent chances for Steven Naismith and Craig Mackail-Smith.

If Rangers's Naismith can cut in from the left on Ramos's blind side and Brighton's finest forward can badger Pique into looking ruffled, then maybe there is something for Europe's leading strikers to clutch at?

The next assessment comes against England on 12 November. The three games Spain have lost since being crowned the best team in the world have all been away friendlies (in Argentina, Portugal and Italy) but, on the evidence of what I saw at the Jose Rico Perez Stadium, I won't be putting any money on them losing at Wembley.

Would I bet on any team beating them next summer? Well, I've still got a strong feeling for Germany - but then I've never been that great at recognising beauty.