THE 2012 Euros are done and dusted – and it has ended with Spain dusting up everybody else.
Normally at the end of such a competition it is quite a novelty to pick a mythical, dream team of all the talents, harnessing the collective abilities of all the nations.
This time round it is quite pointless to name a team of a tournament – instead, just make the Euro 2012 Select XI emanate exclusively from Spain.
How many other players would get in ahead of the Spaniards?
A very big shout granted, but he would want to do everything off his own bat and that’s not the Spain ethos.
He wouldn’t even get on the Spain substitutes’ bench.
Spain became the first team to win three major championships back to back, leading to claims that this could be the best team of all time.
It is, of course, a question that is impossible to answer because football is different to how it was played, say, in the 1950s, when Hungary were in their pomp.
Brazil in 1970 were fabulous when they beat an outstanding West German team 4-1 in the World Cup final.
Hungary were instrumental in humiliating England 6-3 way back in 1953 and were quite rightly known as the Magical Magyars, but they had no World Cup triumph to claim, losing the following year in the final to West Germany.
Brazil in 1970 played football in the rarified atmosphere of Mexico in a style that was at times mesmerising – that was the year when the England team, beaten in the quarter-final against West Germany, were probably superior to the Boys Of 1966, but then that is another argument entirely.
That World Cup win was the culmination of a golden period for Brazilian samba-style soccer.
It was book-ended by Pele-inspired performances in 1958 and 1970.
They won without the injured Pele in 1962, but he and his team-mates were kicked out of it in England four years later.
Everywhere on the pitch on Sunday, Spain were strong, building on the solidarity between the posts of Iker Casillas, who was still busy enough against Italy on Sunday, despite the outfield dominance of his side.
Sergio Ramos was so good at the back that the absence of Carlos Puyol went un-noticed.
Jordi Alba at left-back was a revelation – his goal against Italy must go down as one of the greatest scored in the Championship, as he displayed scorching pace to get into position, staying on-side despite the alacrity of the run and then executing the killer finish.
Xavi was exemplary as ever, while Xabi Alonso was so good that his performance even enlivened commentator Mark Lawrenson and many people scratched their head in wonder, like him, at the wisdom of Liverpool’s decision to sell him.
David Silva scored an amazing, headed goal for Spain’s first – he had no right to get on the end of it, for it seemed to be travelling to fast for him and yet he still managed to connect and put into the net.
Not for the first time, Andres Iniesta was a stand-out figure in midfield.
It was not that long ago that Spain were labelled the perennial under-achievers of world football, the general notion being that they had the talent, but lacked the application.
However, that script has been re-written, indeed torn up, in the last four years.
Of course, people like this aged columnist can remember watching transfixed and almost goggle-eyed on black and white TV as Real Madrid beat Eintracht Frankfurt 7-3 in the final of the 1960 European Cup, a fleet-footed but skilled display that was light years ahead of anything being played on Planet Football.
But that was a club match, and though the jury may be out on whether Spain’s 4-0 win against the Italians was a better performance than Brazil’s final win in 1970, they remain two matches right out of the top drawer.
So what of England?
Well, they went through the tournament unbeaten – save for the penalty shoot-out – but maybe it was not a bad thing that they exited at the last eight stage, for it spared them possible abject humiliation.
So what of the future?
Well it looks like a lot of the old guard will bow out, but it remains questionable whether England have the quality to replace them.
The standard of football in England is going down, not up.
Watching England Under-19s play recently against Slovenia and Switzerland was an underwhelming experience.
They did beat Slovenia 5-0, but the East Europeans were rubbish.
England rolled over the Swiss 1-0, but were lucky to win that as the visitors were the better side.
One went to both matches expecting to see at least one England player exhibit the wow factor, but the wait was in vain and it was hard to imagine any of coach Noel Blake’s side making anything like a big impression later in their careers.
These are trying times for England as the talent pool shrinks in line with expectations.