Even had they lost last night, I don't think anyone would have denied that the last 5 years have been dominated by the Spanish. Even if they completely fluffed their lines in Poland and Ukraine, Euro 2008 and the 2010 World Cup coupled with Barcelona's three Champions League victories in six years (quite a monumental achievement when you consider how difficult it is to win that trophy) would have been enough to allow such an acclamation. There's no doubt now after Spain won their third international tournament on the spin - an unprecedented achievement, which could be replicated in our lifetimes, but is a rare and impressive feat nonetheless. Considering how many teams could have been worthy winners of each of the last three tournaments, the fact that Spain have somehow kept their heads and their shoulders above the rest (they're practically looking down at the rest of us on the ground from atop the heights of the famous Sagrada Familia) is undeniably brilliant. Are they as good as the famed 1970s Brazil team? Such talk is often ridiculous mostly for the fact that most people who make such claims were probably too young to remember, or not even born at the time. Furthermore there are other great teams that have been forgotten in the vagaries of time - the 'Golden Team' of Hungary in the 1950s were also said to be legendarily brilliant. Certainly the game is more competitive now - the art of defending in particular has improved across all countries while the competitiveness of non-European/South American teams is monumentality greater now than back in 1970. Plus, the athleticism that came with the tricks and possession of that Brazil team which gave them an advantage back then is now a common feature to all teams at the highest level now. So it's impossible to compare between the 1970s Brazil team and the 2008-2012 Spain team.
Last night's win did make the arbitrary argument in favour of Spain more compelling, and it certainly cemented their place within the history of the game as one of those teams that changed the way the world understands the game. Tiki-taka with its consummate mastery of the maintaining of possession and the constant off-the-ball pressure that facilitates it will have a lasting legacy over the game. It is rooted in a previous brand of football that was able to fashion its own legacy - the Total Football of the Dutch in the 1970s. Cruyff's influence on the training techniques at the famous La Masia academy in Barcelona from his early 90s stint as Barca manager undoubtedly contributed to Spain's extraordinary production line of technically gifted players. The emphasis on cherishing the ball and intelligent weaving chances, rather than brutally chucking the ball forward to a 'big man up front', was forced upon these prodigious talents from youth. The oft-mentioned but devastatingly true fact is that players such as Xavi, Iniesta and Fabregas would not have developed in the same way if they went to English academies. Paul Scholes is often used to refute this character assassination of the English game, but Scholes is an exception that rather proves the argument here - how many other players like Scholes have England produces in the 50 years before hand? England have had only a handful of players gifted with anything near the technique of Spain's 'carousel' over the last 50 years whereas Spain currently have an abundance. Just looking at Spain's bench is enough to convince anyone that the Spanish production of technically excellent players, talented enough to slot quite easily into this history making team, surpasses that of England and most other nations to an embarrassing extent.
The influence of Total Football on this current Spain team, and the current Barca team also, cannot be understated. The players idealise the Cruyff's Barca team of the early 90s - Guardiola was not just significant as a manager to many of these players, but he was also, as a player, the boyhood hero to Xavi, Iniesta and Fabregas. Indeed, when you consider the premise and conclusion of what Total Football attempted to achieve - for a team to be filled with players with the technical ability of the best midfielders and for all these players to be able to swap positions to no detrimental effect on the team - then Spain can be said to have fulfilled the standards previously set by Total Football. To poor Shearer's shock, there were no strikers, but a 4-6-0 formation, which, in attack, became a 2-8-0 such was the willingness of their full backs to attack. The two at the back, Pique and Ramos, are also players with great technical ability on the ball and either would be quite easily be able to play in midfield. Even Casillas is a goalkeeper known for his ability as a distributing goalkeeper, passing the ball back into the game with short passes to the defenders, rather than lobbing it forward for a flick on to nowhere.
But for all the philosophy and mastery of their tiki-taka keeping of possession, it is the constant off-the-ball pressure and their immense collective work-rate that has won Spain these tournaments. Whereas the famed international Dutch teams of the 70s were ultimately outfought in the two tournament finals by the industry of West Germany in the 74 World Cup and the greater will of Argentina in the 78 final, Spain are a team whose determination and effort are difficult to surpass. The number of 1-0 wins that have contributed to each of their three titles shows that, for all of Spain's attacking brilliance in games such as the 4-0 win over Italy, it is these other aspects of their game that have won them tournaments. Moreover, aside from perhaps Villa's talismanic contribution in South Africa, Spain haven't won any of these tournaments through sustained individual brilliance. They are fundamentally a team that is more than the sum of its parts, and when you consider the parts, that makes them quite a team.
If the great teams are the teams that have somehow changed the way we watch and play the game, Spain have undoubtedly done this. They have raised the bar - Spain are certainly superior to the 2006 Italy side and anything that preceded them for a long time, including the successful French team at the turn of the millennium - and the next few years will be dominated by attempts by other teams to raise the bar again, to overcome this classic Spanish vintage. Spain will keep up their standard. Xavi and Alonso, the elder statesmen of the current team, have at least the 2014 World Cup still to look forward to, while the likes of Silva, Iniesta and Fabregas will be at supposed their peaks then. Couple with this the emergence of younger technical wizards such as Thiago Alcantara, Mata and Jordi Alba (one of the stars of Euro 2012) among many others, and Spain's era of dominance could quite conceivably stretch to engulf a few more tournaments in victorious tiki-taka ticker-tape. It is up to everyone else to prevent the Spanish bull's continued march, to find a new tactic that can somehow counteract tiki-taka and to raise the bar again. Otherwise, only time can fade away this Spanish era, and time is currently on Spain's side. Whatever the tactic may be that overcomes Spain, it will have to include the togetherness, energy and discipline that this Spain team has mastered.