When Spain lifted the Euro 2008 trophy this summer, it was seen as the culmination of a long and frustrating journey for a proud soccer nation desperate for glory.
However, as World Cup qualifying progresses and the Spanish bandwagon keeps on rolling, the Euro success might have been merely the start of a spell at the summit of world soccer.
If the World Cup was to be held tomorrow, Vicente Del Bosque's side would be the favorite. The Spanish are playing the best football of any international team on the planet, Brazil included.
Last Saturday's 3-0 victory in Estonia was to be expected, but the way Spain casually swatted its opponent aside was the most striking aspect of the performance.
The Spanish have now gone 26 matches without defeat and are growing in confidence with every fresh result. Not since France embarked upon its back-to-back major tournament-winning run in World Cup '98 and Euro 2000 has an international team looked so imperious and dominant.
Most importantly, Del Bosque, who took over from Luis Aragones after the Euros, has at his disposal a group of players with youth on its side.
Holding midfielder Marcos Senna, one of the few unsung heroes of the Euro triumph and one of Spain's few mainstays over 30 years old, is likely to return against Belgium on Wednesday to add further protection to a defense that has not conceded a single goal in its three qualifying victories so far.
It has been a long wait for Spain to be the bullies of the world stage. Now that the time has arrived, they don't want to relinquish supremacy.
If you think this team is good now, wait until the World Cup finals in South Africa in two years time.
Here are 11 more points to make on the weekend's action:
1. Get him an Advil
The pressure is on for Sven-Goran Eriksson already after Mexico suffered a shock 1-0 road defeat to Jamaica in CONCACAF qualifying. Mexico's fans already had a certain inherent level of suspicion for a foreign coach, and this loss made Eriksson's task in winning approval even tougher.
There is no cause for panic just yet as El Tri should still advance comfortably to the next round of qualifying. Eriksson has some problems, though, and he'll have to rebuild some momentum ahead of CONCACAF's six-team final stage next year.
2. Get him a beer
OK, so of course it is too early to starting predicting glory for the United States based on a 6-1 demolition of Cuba in World Cup qualifying. Even so, head coach Bob Bradley could have reached for a glass of ale on Saturday night satisfied with a job well done.
Quite rightly, Bradley and his players will be judged on how they fare at the World Cup in South Africa, where they will face teams far superior to Cuba. However, the Americans' all-round cohesion and the excellent play of DaMarcus Beasley bodes well for the future.
3. Get him some earplugs
Brazil head coach Dunga complained of excessive noise coming from a nightclub near the hotel where his players stayed in Venezuela ahead of their 4-0 thrashing of the hosts. Imagine how many more goals they would have scored if they'd gotten proper sleep?
4. California dreaming
The Columbus Crew was widely dismissed as no-hopers heading into the MLS season. Instead, the club has put together one of the best campaigns in league history.
Guillermo Barros Schelotto's superb form – combined with outstanding backup from a deep squad of underrated players – has helped the Crew achieve MLS's best record (16-6-6), which they clinched for the Supporters' Shield by drawing 2-2 in Chicago on Sunday.
As we have seen before, though, regular-season dominance counts for little unless Sigi Schmid's men continue their run into the playoffs and clinch a spot in the Nov. 23 MLS Cup in Carson, Calif.
5. Catch a flight to …
Salt Lake City. The brand new Rio Tinto Stadium, home of Real Salt Lake, is a superb place to watch a game and a welcome addition to the North American soccer landscape. Go there.
6. A round of applause for …
• The Vancouver Whitecaps, who were crowned champion of USL-1 on Sunday after beating the Puerto Rico Islanders 2-1 in the championship game.
• Austen Everett, the University of Miami's inspirational goalkeeper.
7. Get them a Kleenex
• Ashley Cole, who was booed by the Wembley Stadium crowd during England's 5-1 win over Kazakhstan on Saturday, then immediately defended by his oversensitive teammates and the F.A.
• Kris Boyd, who won't play for Scotland under George Burley again after reacting petulantly to being left on the bench during a 0-0 draw with Norway.
• Kevin Kuranyi, who effectively ended his international career by walking out on the Germany squad when he was not selected for a 2-1 win over Russia. Not smart.
8. Get ready to say hello to …
Thierry Henry. Don't be fooled by Henry's comments that he is happy to stay and fight for his place at Barcelona. The France striker is growing increasingly frustrated and may soon start looking towards the exit door. Rest assured that when he does, the New York Red Bulls will put together a strong case to bring him to the Big Apple.
9. Get ready to say goodbye to …
The UEFA Cup. Now re-branded as the UEFA Europa League, it is thank you and goodbye to Europe's second-tier club competition, at least in its current format.
From now on, there will be 12 groups of four, playing on a home-and-away basis, in the first round. Two teams from each group progress to the last 32, where they are joined by the eight third-place finishers in the Champions League groups.
The change that will have the biggest impact upon clubs and their finances is the decision to centrally package television rights, which should lead to a great revenue share for all.
10. Get excited about …
Group 7 in European World Cup qualifying. France and Romania, the two group favorites, currently languish in fourth and fifth place behind Serbia, Lithuania and Austria. Expect plenty more thrills and spills over the next year before this group is finally resolved.
11. Why it's good to be a soccer player
Take a look at Yasmina Filali, a German/Moroccan actress and wife of Bayern Munich's Thomas Helmer.
- Vicente Del Bosque