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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