For men of a certain age, and with an anorak's interest in football, April 29th 1972 stands as one of the defining moments in the history of international football. It was on that night that West Germany came to Wembley and beat England 3-1, in the German side that night were newbies Hoeness and Breitner, the goal scoring machine that was Gerd Muller, the mercurial Gunter Netzer and the legendary Franz Beckenbauer. England watched a new style of football emerge on the international scene. Similar to the total football style that Rinus Michels was masterminding at the same time in Holland, the German team under the managership of Helmut Schoen showed that the old style English game had been reduced to a mess of ball chasing, huff and puff. As England would endure the long dark tea time of the soul by missing out on the 1972 European Championships, 1974 World Cup, 1976 European Championships and 1978 World Cup so West Germany would win two of those competitions and reach the final in one of the others, Holland would reach two World Cups.
That was then and this is now.
What we saw tonight might not have the long term impact of that famous West German performance, but what it did do show was that, along with the previous nights friendly at the Emirates between Brazil and Italy, the top three sides in world football are Brazil, Argentina and Spain. It also showed that when a team plays with fervour, skill, balance and desire (not to be confused with the Anglo-Saxon version of desire which is usually shirt sleeves rolled-up, snarling, bare faced aggression) and total belief in each other you can almost achieve what you want. Xavi, Xabi Alonso, Andries Iniesta, Fernando Torres, David Villa and Sergio Ramos would walk into any England team tomorrow, of that I am in no doubt.
That doesn't mean that England are not better than we were after the debacle of the 2006 World Cup but it does mean that if we are to succeed at the 2010 World Cup we need to make up for lost ground.
For Spain the transformation is almost complete, the perennial underachievers of world football will go to South Africa as European Champions and, probably, third favourites. These are heady times for Spanish football and you feel that the current crop of internationals have the confidence, belief and ability to go further than the Spanish team of 2002 which were controversially knocked out, in the Quarter Finals, on penalties by their South Korean hosts.