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Bobby McMahon

Bobby McMahon

You can see me on Soccer Central most Mondays and Thursdays on Rogers Sportsnet in Canada. I write a regular column for Forbes.com and Soccerly.com and frequently guest on various podcasts and radio shows.


TANGENTS

Spain Trying To Go Where No Country Has Gone Before

Written by on November 13, 2011 | 11 Comments »
Posted in Argentina, Brazil, France, Germany, International, Spain

It is pretty standard fare. A team wins a trophy and more times than not they become a favourite to retain the title. But it is rarely quite as straight forward, particularly, when there is any form of straight knock out involved.

Furthermore, if it is difficult for club teams it is even trickier for international sides. With major tournaments normally coming around every two years the gap can be problematic.

The decision facing successful national team managers can be one of sticking with what was successful or bringing in new players in an attempt to keep things fresh and to maintain that desire to win again.

It is a situation that faces Spain manager Vicente del Bosque. Del Bosque took over after Luis Aragonés broke Spain’s international duck with a win at Euro 2008 and the former Real Madrid manager maintained the run by winning the World Cup in South Africa in 2010.

Now Spain has the task of becoming the first country to ever win three successive major tournaments.

Here is a look at some of the great international teams since the end of World War 2 and it illustrates the magnitude of the job facing Spain next summer at Euro 2012.

Hungary was the first great post-war team after WW2. As a communist country Hungary had no “professional players” and as such they were allowed to compete at the Olympics. The European Championship did not arrive on the scene until 1960 so the Olympic tournament offers another barometer. (Remember these were the days before an age limit was applied to Olympic football).

Hungary won the Gold Medal in Helsinki in 1952 while scoring 16 and conceding only one. Any inclination to dismiss the accomplishment on account of amateur opponents was put to bed in the next two years with Hungary’s annihilation of England in two games at Wembley and Budapest – combined score 13-4.

Hungary entered the World Cup Finals in Switzerland in 1954 as prohibitive favourites. The odds grew shorter when Hungary made it to the final match and had to play West Germany a side they had beaten 8-3 in the group stage.

Regardless of scoring 27 goals and allowing 10 in their five games Hungary could no better than runners-up. Leading 2-0 after 8 minutes was not even good enough as West Germany fought back to score 3 and in the process pull off the biggest upset in history of the World Cup Final.

The Hungarian Revolution of 1956 not only meant that Hungary failed to defend their Olympic title but it also meant the dissolution of the Magnificent Magyars.

Brazil was another victim of a World Cup Final upset (although strictly speaking there was no final game) in 1950. It took until 1958 for Brazil to win their first World Cup and they followed it up with another in Chile four years later.

However, the best they could do in the Copa America around the same time was to finish as runners-up in 1957 and 1959 in Peru and Argentina respectively.

West Germany made the World Cup Final in 1966 only to lose to England in extra time and then finished third in Mexico in 1970. In 1972 lifted their first trophy since 1954. It was the European Championship and they did so by beating the Soviet Union 3-0 in the final.

Two years later the Germans entered the final against the Netherlands as underdogs despite being the host nation. West Germany went behind early as they had in 1954 – this time to a first minute penalty kick. But just like 1954 West Germany fought back to win 2-1.

Their attempt to win three-in-a-row floundered at the 1976 European Championships. Tied at 2-2 against Czechoslovakia West Germany lost 5-3 on penalty kicks – an occurrence we have not seen since.

Argentina won their second World Cup in Mexico in 1986 beating West Germany 3-2 in a terrific final. They were to lose to Germany 1-0 in a poor match four years later and go on to win the Copa America in Chile in 1991.

In between they finished 4th and 3rd in 1987 and 1989 at Copa America in Argentina and Brazil. 

France failed to make the 1990 or 1994 World Cup Finals. There was, however, signs of an awakening at the European Championships in 1996 in England. France lost in the semi to the Czech Republic 6-5 on penalties.

As host of the World Cup Finals in 1998 France was clearly under pressure but they battled through to become World Champions for the first time.

Two years later they became the only European side to win the global trophy followed by the regional competition by beating Portugal in the semi final 2-1 on a golden goal and Italy by the same score and same method in the final. France needed a Sylvan Wiltord equalizer four minutes into injury time of the final to set up Trezeguet’s golden goal winner in the final.

But in 2002 France was embarrassed and became one of the few World Champions to exit at the group stage but worse still, the first to not score a goal in defense of its title.

The 1998 side was managed by Aimé Jacquet but he made it clear that he would step down after 1998. Guy Roux was approached to takeover but was passed over.

Roux maintained that he did not get the job because he told the FFA that in order to win again in 2002 the European Championship in 2000 would have to be sacrificed in order to retool the national side.

Roger Lemerre, Jacquet’s assistant, made no such demands.    

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11 responses to “Spain Trying To Go Where No Country Has Gone Before”

  1. brklynstrr says:

    watching barca and spain, i notice that when teams defend for 90min, the spanish wait until the end to throw everyone in the box and send in crosses… i understand patience is part of the plan but i think they need to start the crossing earlier, too many times i watch barca at nil to nil in the 70th and it kills me that they are so calm. Cant always walk the ball into the goal

  2. AntonioSaucedo says:

    Great article< Bobby.

    I wouldn't say West Germany were underdogs in 74 though. The 1972 side is one of the best ever and 74 was the continuation thereof. If some people thought so back in 74, time has proved how wrong they were. I'm not talking only about the 2-1 result, but looking back we can see that there was very litle difference in quality between the Dutch and the Deutsch.

    Line by line, actually the advantage goes to the West Germans.

    Better goalie: Maier, a legend; Jongbloed, good. Advantage WG
    Better defense: Beckenbauer, one of the best footballers ever; Krol: great defender. The rest, pretty even. Advantage WG
    Better midfield: You may think that the Dutch win by a landslide, but not so fast. Cruijff, one of the best ever, Neeskens, and Van Hanegen were awesome, but Overath and Netzer –who didn't even play!– were not far behind. Still, advantage NL
    Better attack: Resenbrink, Rep? Excellent. Mueller and Heynckes, even better. Again, Heynckes didn't play much. Advantage WG.

    You may say this traditional line by line analysis does not apply to the inventors of total football, those iconoclasts of rigid positional playing, but even so, the differences are not great.

    In 1976 the WG side was a very different, after the 1966-1974 generation had passed the baton. And Panenka scored the most dramatic PK in history. In Spain's case, it's pretty much the same team. If they can win the Euro, they'll become the best side in history. Skeptics will abound though, so I guess they'll have to win the WC in Brasil to shut everybody up. IMHO, they have what it takes to do it.

  3. Gillian says:

    *in my best Spock voice* Fascinating.

    I think it’d be amazing for Spain to successfully defend its Euro title and win 3 major competitions in a row. This post puts into sharp relief just what this team will try to achieve in Poland/Ukraine. Having said that, with the team from 2008 and 2010 still relatively in tact, I’d still be stunned if they were defeated next summer. The only team that *might* challenge them is Germany, and we see how easily Spain handled them in South Africa.

    Is it June yet?

  4. J Rob says:

    Am I right in thinking that England (World Cup ’66) and Greece (Euro’s 2004) have been the least successful champions in relation to how they have done in the subsequent tournament?

  5. astronomer says:

    Bobby,
    I think in the Euro 2000 final, France beat Italy 2-1 (not Portugal).

    Sylvain Wiltord scored the equalizer and David Trezeguet scored the winner.
    ___________________________________________

  6. England made the semi final of the 68 European Championships and the quarter finals of the 70 World Cup so I don’t think they would fall into the category of least successful.
    Greece 2004 followed in the footsteps of a number of other Euro winners.
    Czechoslovakia won in 76 but failed to qualify for the 78 World Cup Finals. Denmark won in 92 but failed to qualify for 94 WCF.
    Italy World Cup winners 1984 – failed to qualify for European Championships 1986 in France. I am sure that there are more but these come quickly to mind.

  7. Astronomer – you are correct my mistake. Portugal was the semi final. I will correct.

  8. Antonio Saucedo – I remember watching in a packed room and being the only one to think West Germany was going to win. You also seem to have side stepped the reality that West Germany had not played very well up to that point and had lost to East Germany in the group stage. Add to that the now accepted fact that Helmut Schoen had lost control of the team and yes I would say that they were in fact considered to be underdogs.
    PS – given that Netzer did not play in the final how can you use him as an example of a stronger German midfield? How often did Overath and Netzer play together successfully?

  9. Boris says:

    Bobby, good analysis of the Euro Games. That’s why I like watching the Soccer Report.

  10. ttred says:

    Bobby, Spain’s win in 2008 did not break their duck. They won the tournament in 1964. Great article otherwise though.

  11. Gus Keri says:

    Bobby:

    On West Germany’s loss to East Germany in 1974, There was a widespread rumor that West Germany intentionally lost the game to avoid the tougher group in the second group stage that included the Netherlands and Brazil.

    How much truth to this rumor?

    And I have to disagree with the comparison between WG and NL. It wasn’t only one to one comparison. It was the Netherlands’ style of play that led to such high expectation. And we have seen it many time, teams with flair and style ended up on the losing end.

    And on the two meetings between West Germany and Hungary in 1954, there were many small details that led to such contrasting results.

    West Germany, mainly, used their reserve team and lost 8-3 in the first game, during which, a German defender intentionally injured Puskas and led to him sitting out the next two games.

    In the final, Puskas insisted on playing, against the wishes of his teammates. He wanted to recieve the trophy as captain. There was no substitution allowed then. So, Hungary ended up playing 10 vs 11, basically, because Puskas was standing around all the time.

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