MORE bad news for those countries hoping to end Spain's domination of international football at the World Cup in two years' time.
They aren't going away. Of the group crowned champions of Europe in thrilling fashion in Ukraine on Sunday night, perhaps only Xavi (who will be 34 by then) will not be on the flight to Brazil, although he is not a player that coach Vicente Del Bosque will be in a hurry to discard. Even if he dropped to walking pace, the Barcelona schemer would still be far more influential and potent than most of his midfield rivals.
Carles Puyol, who missed the European Championships due to injury, will almost certainly not feature at the World Cup as he will turn 36 in 2014, but given Spain conceded just one goal without him in the defence of their European title, then perhaps that won't be such a loss. Throw in striker David Villa, another currently sidelined through injury, and the best of the crop coming through – their Under-23s are in Olympic action at Hampden later this month – and the thought of trying to knock Spain from their pedestal must seem a daunting prospect.
Having become the first country to clinch three major trophies in succession, their next challenge is to become the first European winner of a World Cup staged in the Americas. On the seven occasions the tournament has been held on either continent (the USA, Mexico, twice, Chile, Brazil, Uruguay and Argentina), South American sides have triumphed each time. Spain showed in South Africa two years ago that they had little trouble acclimatising to unfamiliar surroundings but to go to Brazil and defeat the South Americans on their own patch would lift their achievements to a new level altogether.
What chance then a serious challenge to Spanish supremacy from the hosts? An unconvincing set of performances and quarter-final exit at the last World Cup cost Dunga his job, and Mano Menezes, his successor as head coach, has spent the subsequent two years trying to lift Brazilian spirits. Another quarter-final defeat in last year's Copa America brought about further criticism but Menezes has kept faith with an exciting, youthful squad and players such as Ganso, Neymar, Pato and Hulk should all thrill home crowds in two years' time. Trying to satisfy the demands for Joga Bonito – to 'play beautifully' – while creating a successful team unit will be Menezes' main challenge and next year's Confederations Cup will provide further evidence of their readiness for a tilt at a sixth world title.
There will be an expectation on Argentina to impress, too. There are those who refuse to acknowledge Lionel Messi's claim to be the greatest of all time until he inspires his country to World Cup success and 2014 in neighbouring Brazil might be his best chance to do so. Under new management after failure in the World Cup and Copa America, Alejandro Sabella, the one-time Sheffield United and Leeds United player, has been charged with reviving Argentina's fortunes. With a forward line the envy of every other nation – Messi, Gonzalo Higuain, Sergio Aguero, Ezequiel Lavezzi, Lisandro Lopez et al – success or otherwise for Argentina in two years may well rest with whether or not Sabella can piece together a convincing defence from a raft of relatively inexperienced aspirants.
Failure to truly test Spain's authority in Poland and Ukraine will demand the Europeans make a better fist of it at the World Cup. Germany seem the side best placed to do so although their semi-final loss to Italy was a jolt to a nation who felt coach Joachim Loew had put together the perfect package. Still, one defeat does not make them a poor side, although Loew may need to be less idealistic, and more streetwise in Brazil. Miroslav Klose will likely have retired by then but the rest of the regulars will still be under 30 and with two years' further experience behind them.
Whither Italy? Few had expected Cesare Prandelli's side to progress so far at the Euros, even if they were then mercilessly torn apart in the final. The makeshift forward line of Mario Balotelli and Antonio Cassano proved to be a surprise success, while a solid backline – the final apart – held up the proud Italian tradition of treating defending as an art. Success or otherwise in Brazil may rely on whether deep-lying regista Andrea Pirlo, who turns 35 the month before the World Cup gets underway, is still playing at the highest level, and whether Balotelli can avoid self-destruction in the intervening period.
What's French for deja vu? Another tournament that promised so much again delivered so little, the manager has gone and France are looking at another fresh start. There had been a feeling that Laurent Blanc had put together a contented, well-rounded squad capable of a serious challenge for the European title but instead what emerged was further disappointment and recriminations. Blanc has already stepped down and the new manager will be charged with getting the team back on track. The majority of a youthful squad will return for the World Cup qualifying campaign, although it is their mental, rather than physical, qualities that are again most under scrutiny.
England no longer expects. A low-key build up to the European Championships proved prudent, their laboured performances further underlining the extent of the rebuilding job that has been left at Roy Hodgson's door. It is hard to see them being genuine contenders in Brazil although a lot can change in just two years. Spain, though, will again be the team to beat.