Spain hoping Xavi will be ready to 'play it again'

AFP, Sunday 20 May 2012

An aging Xavi insists he is still in physical and mental shape with 'a good few years left', Spain's coach will need the playmaker for the upcoming Euro 2012 tournament

Xavi Hernandez
Spain's midfielder Xavi (Photo: AFP)

As the player that makes the reigning European and world champions tick, Spain fans are hoping Xavi Hernandez can hold off the effects of fatigue and injury to lead La Roja to more glory in Poland and Ukraine

At 32, the outstanding man in Spain's triumphs at Euro 2008 and the 2010 World Cup has at least one major international tournament left in him.

But is he fit enough, mentally and physically, to live up to the incredibly high standard he has set himself since finally coming to the international fore at Euro 2008, when he was named player of the tournament?

Spain coach Vicente Del Bosque -- who is having to deal with the loss of Carles Puyol to a knee injury as well as doubts over the physical condition of David Villa -- needs the Barcelona playmaker on top of his game if La Roja are to become the first nation to win three successive major international titles.

Xavi has averaged over 60 matches a year since 2008.

His body is feeling the effects, with a chronic calf-muscle injury in particular taking its toll, but the player himself insists he feels in good health and has a good few years left in the tank.

"I am not thinking about the end of my career. I want to play all the time, I can be a bit of a pain in that regard," he said recently.

"This year I have missed a few games due to injury but I am excited about the European Championship and at the prospect of carrying on playing at international level for several more years, for as long as my body can cope."

Xavi is the orchestrator for club and country, a man who claims that he can only be fulfilled when he returns to the dressing room at the end of a game if he has touched the ball at least 100 times during the 90 minutes.

He completed 104 passes more than any other player at the 2010 World Cup, and earned the nickname 'Humphrey Bogart' thanks to Andres Montes, the eccentric, late Spanish television commentator who associated his love of passing the ball to the famous misquote from the film Casablanca - "Play it again, Sam."

That may be tenuous, but it is an example of the affection that all of Spain has for this affable, intelligent man and wonderful playmaker from the town of Terrassa near Barcelona.

Along with fellow Catalan Puyol and Basque Xabi Alonso, he is one of those who have helped bury the myth that Spain's collection of different regional identities could not come together and play in a harmonious, successful national team.

It is largely thanks to Xavi that the so-called 'tiki-taka' short-passing game behind Barcelona's success is also now driving Spain's dominance of the international scene. And, to Xavi, it is the only way to play the game.

"Some teams can't or don't pass the ball. What are you playing for? What's the point? That's not football. Combine, pass, play. That's football - for me, at least," he said in an interview last year.

Xavi is Barcelona's all-time record appearance holder and goes into Euro 2012 with 108 caps, making him Spain's most-capped outfield player.

He has already won everything there is to win in a career that began when Louis van Gaal blooded him in Barcelona's first team in 1998.

Domestically he has lifted six Liga titles and one Copa del Rey (ahead of next weekend's final against Athletic Bilbao). He has also been part of three Champions League-winning sides, and has won the Club World Cup twice.

His winners' medal from the 1999 under-20 World Cup threatened to be his only international honour until he inspired the beginning of Spain's golden era four years ago in Vienna.

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