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GRAHAME L. JONES / ON SOCCER

It's tough to stretch this into a triple

No player has won the European Cup, European championship and Olympic gold in the same year. Spaniards have the best chance in 2012.

August 27, 2011|Grahame L. Jones | On Soccer
  • Spainish players celebrate with the winner's trophy after defeating Switzerland in the UEFA European under-21 championship in Arhus, Denmark.
Spainish players celebrate with the winner's trophy after defeating… (Ian Walton / Getty Images )

It is a triple play — to borrow a term from baseball — that has never been accomplished in soccer.

More than half a century has passed since the opportunity first presented itself in 1960, but 13 chances have come and 13 chances have gone and soccer's most elusive clean sweep still remains up for grabs.

In 2012, the opportunity will again be there. Could it be the year that a soccer player finally completes the triple play of being on the team that wins the European Cup, European Championship and Olympic gold medal?

More interesting, if the feat is to be accomplished, which player is most likely to achieve it? There are several factors to bear in mind.

• The player will have to play for one of the 32 teams that went into the hat in Monaco on Thursday when the draw for the 2011-12 European Champions League was made.

• He will have to be on the winner's stand when the Champions League final is played May 19 in Munich, Germany.

• Only a European player can achieve the triple play, because only European players can take part in Euro 2012, to be jointly staged by Poland and Ukraine. Again, he will have to be on the winner's stand when the final is played July 1 in Kiev, Ukraine.

• A European team will have to win the Olympic gold medal, and no European team has done that in 20 years, or since Spain won at home in the 1992 Barcelona Games.

• Olympic men's soccer is limited to players younger than 23, with three "overage" players permitted; European clubs are loathe to release players for the tournament; a top player with a Champions League winner's medal and a Euro 2012 title already in the bag is more likely to be eyeing vacation than an Olympic medal.

• But if he does make a run for the triple, he will have to be on the winner's stand when the Olympic final is played Aug. 11 in London.

All in all, it is a formidable challenge, which is why few have even come close to achieving it. In fact, only 11 players have won two of the three legs.

In 1984, goalkeeper Albert Rust was on the France teams that won the European Championship and the gold medal at the Los Angeles Olympics. But Rust played for FC Sochaux, and it was Liverpool that won the European Cup that year.

In 1988, goalkeeper Hans van Breukelen, defenders Ronald Koeman and Berry van Aerle, midfielder Gerald Vanenburg and forward Wim Kieft "did the double" by winning the European Cup with PSV Eindhoven and the European Championship with the Netherlands, but the Soviet Union won the Olympic gold.

In 1992, defender Albert Ferrer and midfielder Josep Guardiola won the European Cup with Barcelona and the Olympic gold medal with Spain, but the European Championship was won by Denmark.

In 2000, forward Nicolas Anelka and midfielders Christian Karembeu and Geremi won the European Champions League with Real Madrid, and while Anelka and Karembeu also won the European Championship with France, and Geremi won the Olympic gold with Cameroon. But none could win all three titles.

So the triple has yet to be achieved, and the potential winners in 2012 are small in number, realistically speaking.

That's because the four European teams that will take part in the London Olympics are Belarus, Switzerland, Spain and a nonsensical amalgamated Great Britain team supposedly featuring players from England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales.

But the Swiss, the Scots, and the Welsh will not qualify for Euro 2012. In the event that Northern Ireland and Belarus do qualify, they will not win the tournament. That leaves only England and Spain to consider.

It might well be that an English team will win the Champions League, but England's long underachieving national team will not win Euro 2012, so scratch its players from the triple play possibility too.

All of which leaves us with defending European and world champion Spain, which this year has added European under-21 and under-19 titles to its trophy cabinet, while its under-20 team lost on penalty kicks to eventual champion Brazil in the quarterfinals of the Under-20 World Cup in Colombia.

In other words, Spain is in prime position to add an Olympic gold medal to its haul. If it can retain its Euro title, there are enough Spaniards on teams with serious Champions League aspirations to put the triple within reach.

If not, there's always 2016.

grahame.jones@latimes.com

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