There’s a heavy sense of history repeating itself in the boom and bust of France and Spain over the past two decades:
France reached the semis at Euro 96, Spain won Euro 2008.
France won World Cup 98, Spain won World Cup 2010.
France won Euro 2000, Spain won Euro 2012.
France failed to make it out of their group at World Cup 2002, as did Spain at World Cup 2014.
France went out in the first knockout round at Euro 2004.
Guess what Spain did at Euro 2016? That’s right.
Twelve years separate the two football dynasties at their peaks, but the dead French cat did bounce in 2006, with only a penalty shootout loss to Italy in the final preventing Zinedine Zidane and co rolling back the years.
Could Julen Lopetegui’s Seleccion repeat the feat in Russia?
The main buzz around the Spanish camp at present concerns Barcelona players, particularly stalwart centre-half Gerard Pique, after Catalonia’s divisive and violent independence referendum.
Pique’s continued comments threaten to overshadow Lopetegui’s side’s procession towards Russia, with passage practically assured ahead of their final two Group G fixtures against Albania and Israel.
Spain are unbeaten in 12 games since the former Real Madrid and Barcelona substitute keeper took over the reins from Vicente del Bosque after Euro 2016.
World Cup winners Pique, captain Sergio Ramos, Sergio Busquets, Andres Iniesta, David Silva and Pedro are still playing, with even David Villa getting a few minutes last time out in the 3-0 home win over Italy.
Added to the mix is David de Gea, largely thought of as the best goalkeeper on the planet right now, plus talented up-and-comers such as Koke, Saul Niguez, Thiago Alcantara, Isco, Dani Carvajal and Alvaro Morata.
No Group G side has been able to land a decisive blow on Spain, with a 1-1 draw in Italy the only near-blemish on their World Cup 2018 record so far.
They’re third-favourites to lift the trophy in Moscow next July, ahead of hotly-fancied duo France and Belgium.