“Spain are a step above everyone else.”
Daniele De Rossi
Tarcisio Burgnich had no doubt in his mind.
“I told myself before the game, ‘he’s made of skin and bones just like everyone else’ — but I was wrong.”
Italy had just been on the end of the best performance from an international team. The Azteca Stadium had been left buzzing. The 1970 FIFA World Cup final had ended 4-1 to Brazil. The Italian catenaccio system had just been crushed.
The world had witnessed the likes of Jairzinho, Rivelino and Carlos Alberto. It had seen the last, but also the very best of Pele. It was Pele to whom Burgnich referred.
Fast forward to 2012, and another final. A European Championships final and once more, Italy were up against a super team. Spain had been firm favourites to win Euro 2012. In Kiev on the 1st of July 2012, they showed the whole world why. They dominated possession from the get go. They signalled their intent from early on. Shots rained in at Gianluigi Buffon’s goal. The passing was intricate. Just as Brazil had made the famed Italian defence look ordinary in 1970, the Spanish midfield negated Andrea Pirlo’s influence in 2012.
And just as in 1970, Italy conceded four goals. All of them picture perfect. None more so than the one in which the cultural architect played in the rising full back. Similar to the moment that symbolises that 1970 final. Pele receiving the ball. Taunting, waiting, then playing a pass that can only be described as art into the space in front of Carlos Alberto. The marauding full back charging to meet it first time and score past the hapless Italian goalkeeper. The same scenario played out again. The ageing cultural architect here was Xavi Hernandez. The artistic pass was to Jordi Alba. The finish finished it off. It was only Spain’s second goal on the night, but just like Carlos Alberto’s (which had been Brazil’s fourth), it effectively killed off the game.
Spain have now reached the pinnacle. They have made history. They are now being compared with the Brazil side of 1970. Flamboyantly, they are nowhere near. Title wise however, they have surpassed them. They are the first team to defend the European Championship. They are the first team to win Euro-World Cup-Euro. They now hold three major tournaments at the same time. None of them, it should be noted, has been won on home soil. Its been Austria and Switzerland. South Africa. Now, Poland and Ukraine. In any era, it is unprecedented.
Whether or not they are the best international side of all time is up for debate. What is not in doubt is that they are certainly the most successful. They have entered the pantheon of greatness.
And on that stairway to greatness, they are a step above everyone else.