Xavi: We’ll be up to the job
The words "Spain" and "easy draw" are rarely heard in the same sentence in the knockout stages of major tournaments, and UEFA EURO 2008 has been no exception. Despite fulfilling their side of the bargain by taking a maximum nine points from three Group D encounters, Spain's dubious reward for reaching the last eight is a match with reigning world champions Italy. Yet Luis Aragones' side have earned nothing but praise for the manner of their displays so far, and are determined to break through the psychological barrier of the quarter-final mark.
To whet your appetite ahead of Sunday's showdown, FIFA.com brings you an exclusive interview with La Furia Roja's midfield conductor Xavi, who will be hoping to deliver another virtuoso performance in Vienna, that most demanding of musical stages.
FIFA.com: Xavi, what has been the talk in the dressing room
Xavi: We know that they're very difficult opponents, who have won everything in the past, and on paper they are the favourites because they're the world champions. We beat them a few months ago in a friendly in Spain, but that's totally different to a competitive match.
In fact, the Spanish senior side have not beaten Italy at the finals of any competition for 88 years. Does that scare you at all?
Is that right? Well, we're not scared, we see this as a challenge more than anything. We know that we have a good team and we have a good footballing philosophy, and allied to this we're going to battle and compete for every ball on Sunday.
Spain's first-choice players will have had more rest going into the game than their Italian counterparts. Will that work in your favour?
Booking our place in the next round after our second game has given us a slight edge because they'll definitely be a little more tired. Besides which they'll be missing two key midfielders in Andrea Pirlo and Gennaro Gattuso. But you never know, games between Spain and Italy are always unpredictable.
What do you think could be the key factor in turning the
match in Spain's favour?
Our strength lies in keeping hold of the ball, because we're very solid when we control possession. And if we can then push on and move the ball around quickly they're sure to struggle, even though they do defend very well. We'll also have to make sure we can nullify the threat of Luca Toni. To do that we need to keep the ball away from our area.
What does this group of players have that sets it apart
from the one that went to the 2006 FIFA World Cup
, and all of us here are really excited and determined to achieve something big in an important competition like the European Championship.
Do you think that the partnership between David Villa and Fernando Torres could prove decisive?
Yes, of course. We've got forwards with great goalscoring ability who can slip their markers and get shots away, so we need to make the most of that. Both of them are in good form and we must take full advantage.
Although Spain have an excellent group of midfield players,
would you agree the team can be guilty of over-elaboration
sometimes when a more direct style might be more
That always depends on who you're playing and how the game is panning out. Sometimes your opponent lines up with two banks of four, and it's hard to get your game going in the gaps between them. At the end of the day, though, it always depends a little on how we're doing, and how the guys up front are making their runs. At the moment things are going well. I feel like we're playing nice football, we're keeping hold of the ball and we're doing plenty of attacking. People should be grateful for that nowadays.
Spain have had a run of bad luck at the quarter-final stages of competitions in recent years, whereas Italy seem able to progress without always playing well. How can you and your team-mates turn things around?
Well, you have to make your own luck and we'll be going for the win right from the off. It's true that recent history suggests that we've got some kind of quarter-final jinx, but we all believe in this squad and in our footballing ideals and we want to reach the semis once and for all.
And how about getting revenge for the broken nose suffered
by your former team-mate Luis Enrique in the last eight of USA
1994? Where did you watch that game against Italy?
I watched that game at home. It was incredibly frustrating because the win was within our grasp and we let it slip away. And what a way to lose! They scored the winner right at the end and Luis had his nose broken, just imagine how that felt. Football's like that though and this could be one of those chances that the game always throws up for a bit of revenge. We know that the whole of Spain will be following us on Sunday and we won't let them down. We'll be up to the job.