And what about those German teams of the 1970s, the teams that won the 1972 European championship, the 1974 World Cup and came within penalty kicks of beating Czechoslovakia in the 1976 European championship game? Then again, the Euro tournament was not as big back then, with only four teams reaching the final stage.
France won the 1998 World Cup and the 2000 European championship. Les Bleus featured standout players such as Fabien Barthez, Lilian Thuram, Patrick Bieira, Zinedine Zidane, Didier Deschamps and Nicolas Anelka. The Brazil team of the 1990s and early 2000s was no slouch, either with two World Cup titles, four Copa Americas and stars Ronaldo and Ronaldinho.
If you go further back, there’s the Hungarian team of the early 1950s, led by legend Ferenc Puskas, who scored 83 goals in 84 games and went on to star at Real Madrid.
“People love these arguments, but the truth is, you’re not really comparing apples to apples,” said Fort Lauderdale Strikers president Tom Mulroy, who played pro soccer in the 1970s and 1980s. “The way I see it, there is a top shelf, and some teams and players are good enough to be on it. Pelé, Maradona, Beckenbauer, Cruyff, and yes, I think Messi will be up there in the conversation.
“As far as teams that changed the game, the great Brazil teams, the great German teams of the ’70s, the 1954 Hungarian team with [Ferenc] Puskas. This Spain team, too, with its passing flair. But you can’t really compare because goalies back then had two defenders in front of them, now they have five. The ball had stitches. Try to curve that rock. The cleats were heavy, now they weigh nothing. It’s not fair to compare.”
The debate surely will rage on.
Said Lalas: “Thirty years from now, they’ll be talking about some new great team, and some reporter will call a TV announcer and ask, ‘What about that Spain team from 2013? Was that the best ever?’ ”