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Jun 18, 2014

The best international dynasties

ESPN FC's expert panel discuss the elimination of the defending champions, Spain.

With Spain's remarkable run of success over (at least for this generation), the question can be asked: Was Spain the best international dynasty ever?

A look at the contenders ...

BRAZIL 1958-1970: Led by the peerless Pele, Brazil unveiled its jogo bonito (beautiful game) to the world by winning three World Cup titles between 1958 and 1970. Pele scored 12 goals in 14 World Cup games in that span, including six at age 17 in 1958. The 1970 team was largely different from the previous winners, so some might split this dynasty in two. But Pele linked the champions, and Brazil remains the only country ever to win three out of four World Cups. Newer versions of Brazil are eternally compared to Pele's teams that won and won beautifully.

WEST GERMANY 1972-1974: After losing the 1966 World Cup final to England in extra time, West Germany became the first European team to reach three straight major finals. Franz Beckenbauer, nicknamed Der Kaiser and considered one of the greatest defenders ever, captained a formidable German side that won the 1972 European Championship and 1974 World Cup, then reached the 1976 Euros final before falling on penalty kicks to Czechoslovakia.

BRAZIL 1994-2002: Though not always as attractive as earlier Brazil squads, this ruthless version reached the finals of six major tournaments: three World Cups and three Copa Americas. With two generations of attacking stars ranging from Romario and Rivaldo to Ronaldo and Ronaldinho, Brazil won the 1994 and 2002 World Cups, plus South America's championship in 1997 and 1999, in a stretch marred only by a surprise loss to France in the 1998 World Cup final.

FRANCE 1998-2000: Exploding onto the international scene by upsetting Brazil in the 1998 World Cup final, Les Bleus followed that up by becoming the first reigning World Cup champion to win the European Championship. A jaw-dropping blend of skill and power, Zinedine Zidane was the face of the team, scoring twice in the 1998 World Cup final. Though France's run was cut short by a shocking group-stage exit at the 2002 World Cup (where Zidane was injured), this golden generation achieved a place of prominence and excellence that few have reached. Zidane even led a brief resurrection at the 2006 World Cup, as France finished runner-up to Italy, and Zidane was famously sent off for his head-butt on Marco Materazzi.

SPAIN 2008-2012: By winning Euro 2012, Spain became the first team to win three straight world and continental championships and the first to win consecutive Euro titles. Perhaps as impressively, Spain revolutionized the concept of possession with its tiki-taka metronomic passing style, movement off the ball and lethal finishing to zap opponents' bodies and minds. While the original generation may be past its prime, plenty of talent looms to carry the torch, as Spain has won the past two under-21 European Championships.

Honorable Mention: The Netherlands team that finished as World Cup runner-up in both 1974 and 1978. Led by Johan Cruyff, the stylish Dutch reinvented the game with their Total Football, which defied traditional positions with its free-flowing nature. This side didn't win a major title, but it laid the groundwork for the Euro 1988 winners and is the spiritual predecessor of Spain's tiki-taka dominance.

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