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Silva cemented his bona fides as one of the top half-dozen players in world football and Spain, with a team featuring second-choice players like Thiago Alcantara, Jordi Alba and Santi Cazorla, passed Scotland into an uneasy submission. The Scots, bless ’em, tried hard but the Spaniards seemed at times to be playing not just another game, but on another plane.
The players who didn’t feature on Tuesday – Torres, Casillas, Xabi Alonso, Iniesta, Mata – mean it’s now apparent that Spain’s second XI could be one of the world’s ten best international outfits. Not accounting for squads (only first teams), they are helped by a healthy youth league and a relative dearth of great opposition: realistically, only the Netherlands and Germany are able to hold a candle to the Spaniards. Brazil and Argentina today are still good, but only resemble their most terrifying best.
The FIFA world rankings (hardly the greatest indicator, but the only one we’ve got) suggest the world’s top ten sides are Spain, the Netherlands, Germany, Uruguay, Portugal, Italy, Brazil, England, Croatia and Argentina.
In living up to their position description as confusing and nonsensical, the FIFA rankings have Croatia ranked ninth and Greece sitting in eleventh position. This is in spite of both squads finding themselves in the same qualifying group for Euro 2012; a group from which Greece qualified and Croatia now face a tricky playoff tie with Turkey.
We can, however, suggest this is a fairly accurate representation of the best teams in world football.
Were Spain’s Second XI to feature in the FIFA rankings, they’d come up against three great teams (Germany, the Netherlands and Uruguay), two inconsistent ones (the other South Americans) and four eminently beatable squads, each with major weaknesses. Apart from perhaps a perceived weakness in central defence, Spain II play a similar brand of football to their first-choice brethren, have pace in abundance and, as they showed on Tuesday, discipline.
Using Spain’s favoured 4-2-3-1, the second furia roja would probably include: Valdes; Alba, Jose Enrique, Alvaro Arbeloa and Raul Albiol; Thiago, Javi Martinez, Cesc Fabregas, Santi Cazorla and Pedro; and Fernando Llorente.
The argument could be made that this team also features some of the best players dozen players in Spain. In this lineup Pedro plays for the twos, yet started in their World Cup triumph last year – superseded by Mata and Silva. Valdes’ recent success in head-to-head battles with Casillas now invites, rather than discourages, comparison between the two. Fabregas is shuttled out of the Spain midfield (as with club) by players comfortably in the World’s top five. Spain has played better recently when Llorente – rather than Torres – has led the line.
This club may even trouble the the vaunted Spain first team. The Spain Second XI are, on paper, a better team than Croatia, Portugal and even Italy. Place Spain v2.0 in any one of the Euro 2012 qualifying groups (and back them with suitable squad depth) and they at least make the playoffs from each. It’s probably also the case that they’d slice England to pieces also.
The simile used most with Spain (and Barcelona) is “death by one thousand cuts”. Perhaps a more appropriate metaphor may be that Spanish football is at present drowning the rest of the football world – inexorably, constrictingly and (given their outstanding Euro U-21 campaign) shows no signs of receding. All that is certain is the next wave of Spanish attacks could well overwhelm a struggling Scot, Lithuanian or even Oranje. After decades of torment, La Furia Roja is certainly making up for lost time.
While going back-to-back-to-back at major tournaments is so difficult that it’s spoke of in grail-like reverence, the smart money for next year’s Euros is on a three-peat – perhaps simply because the difficulty of staying focused for such a period is balanced by the failure of chief rivals Germany and the Netherlands to bridge a gaping talent gap.