Regreso de los Reyes
Return of the Kings
People said they were no longer hungry; people claimed their style of play, once lauded as brilliant, had become slow and boring. Many asserted their time was passed and they would be eclipsed by the newer, fresher rising power. People were wrong.
On July 1, 2012, in Kiev, Ukraine, La Roja did what no national football [aka soccer] side has ever done. They came, they played; they conquered for the third consecutive time. In the world’s second greatest football tournament, La Roja did the unprecedented. They won a third straight major tournament final. By the time of their victorious finish, they had outscored their competition by 12 to 1.
Football is the world’s team sport. It is played at a high level in more countries than any other team game. It is watched and cheered by more people than any other game, and apart from the alternating quadrennial winter and summer Olympics, it is the only sport in which teams representing nations from all continents regularly compete.
After decades of underachievement, Spain’s national team burst on the scene by winning the Euro 2008 tournament. The talent they displayed struck fear in the hearts of all potential rivals. These fears were confirmed and enhanced in the 2010 World Cup when La Roja again triumphed with essentially the same group who had first staked Spain’s claim to supremacy in 2008. This talented and committed team finally came to the brink of an historic achievement. Then, in an unprecedented manner they crossed from aspirants to archetypes. No other national team had ever won three major competitions in a row and no team had ever won the European championship (or the World Cup) by an equal or larger margin than Spain’s 4 – 0 defeat of Italy.
Though there have been other great national teams, no other national team has been able to achieve what La Roja was able to accomplish. In fact, few have even had the chance to do so. Leading up to the final game, many commentators were saying the Spanish had become boring. They claimed the torch had been passed and seemed to believe this team of genuine young, though experienced players had become old and flabby. It makes one wonder how supposed experts could have been so foolish.
The Spanish play in a manner made famous and triumphant by F C Barcelona. The club side, F.C. Barcelona, instills this approach almost from kindergarten level, when its La Masía academy recruits boys who are schooled in two absolute virtues:  share the ball and  remain modest, regardless of achievement.
La Roja plays with these two key concepts regardless of the tactics of the opposition. They have star players but few inflated egos. Based on the ingrained virtues from Barcelona and elsewhere for La Roja the team is the real star. The excellent Spanish players know they are greater together than they ever could be separately. These players are also young overall, so it is likely La Roja will be able to continue their success in 2014 in the next World Cup. If they are able to win in Brazil, it is doubtful any informed and impartial observer will be able to deny they then are the standard against which all other teams will be measured for excellence.
Ridiculed, second-guessed and questioned at every turn, critics abounded during Euro 2012 as La Roja failed to obliterate every team without breaking a sweat. With the historic [for a major tournament final] four goal victory margin, Spain silenced these critics and transformed them into a rousing chorus praising La Roja as the greatest team ever. One possible rival is Argentina which won the Copa America in 1945, 1946, and 1947. Due to the much greater pace of the modern game and demands of the modern schedule, this comparison is not especially apt. These differences between the playing schedules and conditions of the divergent eras similarly render all such comparisons fanciful at best. Regardless of the incomparability of teams from different times, with this resounding victory, La Roja has made a statement and staked a strong claim to the throne.
Comparisons to Brazil, West Germany, or the great Hungarian teams of the 1950s are inevitable. Nonetheless, La Roja is great and young enough to be even greater. The oldest of its key players, Carles Puyol, is 34. He did not play in this tournament due to injury. The leading striker on La Roja, David Villa, is 31 and also was absent from the Euro due to injury. All the others are young enough to be in their prime, during the World Cup in Brazil in 2014. There is no reason to doubt that Spain will strongly contend in 2014 in Brazil and again in 2016, when France hosts the next Euro. As one final indication of the might of Spanish football, consider that their Under 19 squad is the reigning world champion.
With the youth of their key players, their robust team concept, and the high quality of any likely replacements, La Roja has a realistic chance to make the finals in the World Cup of 2014. If they do and then proceed to triumph, their legacy will be confirmed and the debate over the best football side ever will markedly recede. La Roja plays during a golden age of international football competition. Football has far more parity among nations than either basketball, or baseball, or hockey. If they win a second consecutive World Cup two years from now and hang on to win a third consecutive Euro in 2016, all debate will first diminish and then vanish.
Tags: Football, greatness, History, La Roja, Larry Conley, soccer, Spain, Teams, victory