Spain's midfielder Andres Iniesta controls the ball during the FIFA 2014 World Cup friendly football match Spain vs Italy at the Vicente Calderon stadium in Madrid on March 5, 2014. AFP PHOTO / JAVIER SORIANO (Photo credit should read JAVIER SORIANO/AFP/Getty Images)
AFP/Getty ImagesJAVIER SORIANO
It is best to focus on the past half-decade. The systemic underachievement of the past isn't forgotten, but the past few years -- from the Euro 2008 onward -- represent a golden age among the very best in the history of the game. The march through South Africa and the triumph over the Netherlands in the final in 2010 applied a gloss primed to endure for years to come.
Getty ImagesJasper Juinen
La Furia, a team that has already done something that has never been done before, is now trying to do another thing that has never been done before. They have won three major tournaments consecutively – Euro 2008, the 2010 World Cup, and Euro 2012 – which nobody else has ever done. (Strikingly, they had only won one title in the past, Euro 1964.) Now they look to win a fourth in a row. If they manage, their dynasty will have been more dominant than anybody else’s ever before. Only Brazil’s run of three World Cup titles in four editions from 1958 through 1970 will come close. And the frightening thing is: Spain’s conveyor belt of talent keeps humming along, spitting out seemingly better young prospects year after year. Spain are not yet done.
Getty ImagesPablo Blazquez Dominguez
How they got here
The holders proceeded through Group I with few worries despite the awkward presence of France in the five-team pot. Four points against the French -- including the vital away win at the Stade de France – ensured the top spot with three points to spare.
Getty ImagesScott Heavey
Difficult. The Spanish couldn’t possibly have been happy when they saw the Netherlands, whom they vanquished in the last World Cup final, and Chile, one of the world’s more underappreciated sides, modeled after Spain’s own style, put into their Group B. That Australia were tossed in at the end doesn’t make it any easier of a group.
Getty ImagesJohn Berry
Round of 16 prospects
Manageable. Group A, which will produce Group B’s opponents in the next round, contains hosts and fellow favorites Brazil, as well as Mexico, Croatia and Cameroon. Spain will want to avoid an early showdown with Brazil. But any other matchup should make for routine passage into the quarterfinals.
Getty ImagesGonzalo Arroyo Moreno
Spain will enter the fray as one of the favorites. Their ability to join Brazil (1958 and 1962) and Italy (1934 and 1938) as history’s only consecutive winners hinges on whether they can find a way to outwit the athletic and robust approach of their fellow contenders. The trademark sharpness in possession must endure with lingering and potentially fatal questions in defense, creating vulnerabilities when the opposition counters. Whether this group -- perhaps just on the other side of its best with Iniesta and Xavi not quite at their peaks any longer -- can muster that panache again remains uncertain. A place in the last four represents a reasonable expectation for a team still among the best in the world. And so, of course, does another World Cup trophy.