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World Cup 2014 up next for all-conquering Spain
By thrashing Italy 4-0 in Sunday's Euro 2012 final in Kiev, Spain staked a claim to the title of the greatest international team of all time.
Not even Zinedine Zidane's France, or West Germany's great team of the mid-1970s, had ever successfully defended the European Championship before.
Not even the many famous Brazil teams, or four-time world champions Italy, or Johan Cruyff's Holland, had ever won back-to-back continental titles with a World Cup in between.
A bewitching alliance of technical artistry, intuitive movement and metronomic passing, Spain have refocused perceptions of what it takes to succeed in the international game.
In the light of the fate that befell Italy, it seems absurd that Spain could have been criticised for the quality of their football in the days preceding the decider.
Spain replied to their critics in the most emphatic way possible at Kiev's Olympic Stadium, to leave coach Vicente del Bosque in no doubt as to the validity of their approach.
"The way that the national team is going is clear," he said.
"And we can't only think about the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, but afterwards as well. I think the way is clear."
Having agreed to a contract extension prior to the tournament that will keep him at the helm until 2014, Del Bosque can now turn his thoughts to the qualifying campaign for the next World Cup.
Spain have friendlies against Puerto Rico and Saudi Arabia before the qualifiers begin with a trip to Georgia on September 11.
France, beaten 2-0 by Spain in the quarter-finals, will provide the sternest opposition in Group I, but with Laurent Blanc having walked away from his post as coach, Les Bleus are now a rudderless ship.
The first coach to have won the World Cup, the European Championship and the Champions League, Del Bosque faces the awkward task of trying to improve one of the most successful sides in the game's history.
Spain's lauded passing style is unlikely to change, at least in the short-term, but he may decide that the team requires an injection of dynamism.
La Roja had no trouble dominating games at Euro 2012, but the occasionally dreary nature of their football prompted accusations that their famous 'tiki-taka' style had become sterile, and even boring.
The gamble of using Cesc Fabregas as an unorthodox 'false nine' centre-forward paid off in spectacular fashion, and the 61-year-old coach must now decide whether to pursue the experiment.
It could spell bad news for Fernando Torres, the first man to score in two Euro finals, as well as Fernando Llorente, who did not make it onto the pitch for a single minute in Poland and Ukraine.
David Villa, however, will expect to return to the side when he recovers from the broken leg that kept him out of the tournament.
The configuration of the midfield requires less deliberation, but the great men of Spain's golden era will not be around forever.
Xavi will be 34 at the next World Cup, Andres Iniesta 30 and Xabi Alonso 32, and Del Bosque will one day have to think about what Spain will do -- and how they will play -- when they are gone.
Nonetheless, the new face of the national side is already emerging.
Jordi Alba, 23, was Euro 2012's outstanding left-back, and Gerard Pique (25) and Sergio Ramos (26) can look forward to further opportunities to develop their centre-back partnership now that Carles Puyol has entered his 35th year.
Athletic Bilbao pair Javi Martinez (23) and Iker Muniain (19) and Barcelona's Thiago Alcantara (21), meanwhile, will all hope to play a part in the team's evolution as well.
It is an uncomfortable thought for their rivals, but Spain's pool of talent remains as deep as ever and their attention will quickly turn to the quest to complete an extraordinary quadruple at the next World Cup.
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