There are many high-profile countries yet to qualify for UEFA EURO 2016, yet Spain booked their ticket on Friday and can now start contemplating a third straight crown – a sequence which might never be matched.
In some ways there are already curious echoes of what was La Roja's second-ever EURO crown – the start of their recent period of glory – UEFA EURO 2008. Back then, under the late Luis Aragonés, Spain left their native soil for Austria with many of their fans unconvinced following narrow warm-up victories against Peru and the United States.
After a disappointing 2014 FIFA World Cup and a slow start to qualifying this time round – they suffered a shock defeat by Slovakia in their second Group C assignment – there were sceptics once more just 12 months ago. Does adversity tend to fire this group towards special achievements?
Another minor reverberation from Spain's daring, flamboyant win seven years ago was that Santi Cazorla was the last man added to the squad. The then Villarreal midfielder featured in five games – all as a substitute – but stood out for the way he smiled his way through the tournament, almost overwhelmed by events, before departing with a winners' medal.
Now here he is commanding a central midfield position and scoring twice in the game which clinched qualification, Friday's 4-0 victory against Luxembourg in Logrono.
Plenty has changed, however. Are Spain as powerful, as experienced, as capable of simply taking a match away from even the best opposition as they were when Xavi Hernández, Fernando Torres, David Villa, Xabi Alonso and Carles Puyol were in their pomp? Perhaps not. Vicente del Bosque himself told UEFA.com on Friday that qualification had been "a complicated process against difficult teams".
However, let us take a moment to draw on the positives. Neither Villa nor Torres has formally retired, yet if Spain head to France without a pair of strikers with 97 international goals between them, they need not worry about a lack of firepower. After all, 12 different players have found the net for them in this campaign.
Furthermore, though Del Bosque may have lost Xavi and Xabi Alonso, he can still draw on eight of the XI that started the UEFA EURO 2012 final against Italy. The nucleus of this squad is laden with trophies, but they will still feel they have a point to prove after such a disappointing performance in Brazil last summer. Putting the record straight can be a hugely powerful motivation.
Let us also not forget that Del Bosque has a whole host of European Under-21 champions to draw on: the likes of Juan Mata, Javi Martínez, David de Gea, Marc Bartra, Thiago Alcántera, Álvaro Morata and Isco. How important could such pedigree prove? Should Spain be in action exactly nine months today – the UEFA EURO 2016 final – these questions will have been emphatically answered. Del Bosque's team are just seven matches away from arguably football's greatest ever hat-trick.
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