Having bounced back from their shock defeat against Switzerland with a vital victory over Honduras in their second Group H game, Spain now face another decisive encounter against an impressive Chile side protecting a 100 per cent record.
Ahead of Friday’s eagerly anticipated encounter, FIFA spoke to La Selección’s midfield metronome Xavi about the team’s silky style of play, dressing room togetherness and their African adventures.
FIFA: Spain have a style of play which is distinctively theirs, with Johan Cruyff moved to state that, even in defeat against Switzerland, La Roja played the better football. What’s your view?
Xavi: Yes, I’m a footballing romantic just like Cruyff. We like football that is attractive, attacking and easy on the eye. When you win playing like this it’s twice as satisfying. Switzerland’s tactics won them the game; they were trying to find a way to nullify us. They set out to play for a draw but ended up winning the match. I don’t know how it feels to win by playing that way because it’s not something I’ve experienced. I’ve always played attacking football: my footballing ideals are very clear and well-defined. I’ve grown up at Barcelona with that style and that’s the one I like. I think it’s good to win like that, by taking the initiative right from the off.
What’s your verdict on South Africa 2010 so far?
Well to be honest we’ve still not seen too much nice football at this World Cup. That said, Argentina and Germany, for example, play really well and are two teams which go out to win their games. Germany were better than Serbia and we were better than Switzerland but you can’t win if you don’t score. The African teams have really gone for it too, but they’ve not had much luck. It’s a real shame that every team doesn’t play attacking football.
You were part of the Spain side which won the 1999 edition of the FIFA U-20 World Cup in Nigeria. What do you remember of that success on African soil?
We won that World Cup by beating Japan 4-0 in the final. Iker Casillas and Carlos Marchena were also in that team and here we are, back in Africa, once again. In all honesty it’s quite a nice coincidence.
What kind of an impact did winning that world title have?
It really helped a great generation of players to make the breakthrough. It coincided with the introduction of the Bosman ruling in Spain and so back then there wasn’t a great deal of faith shown in Spanish players. So I think that title came at a very good time. There are a few players of that generation still playing at top clubs, it was a great achievement and it took place here in Africa. What lovely memories!
So, Casillas, Marchena and you all know how it feels to be crowned world champions.
It’s such a thrill, a wonderful feeling. We hit the heights at U-20 level but of course the senior World Cup is a different proposition. That said, we do feel like we’re capable of doing it again. At that competition we beat Brazil 2-0 in the first round and from then on we began to believe we had a chance. We’ve started this year’s competition very badly but perhaps this setback will make us stronger and we can do something great. And of course, we’re hoping to make it to the Final.
A lot of the Spanish players go back a long way, but how does the squad handle issues such as club rivalries between the Real Madrid and Barcelona contingents? Is friendship an important part of this squad?
I think that Spanish football fans can identify with national-team players because we’re a group of very normal, very hard-working people who love the game. It doesn’t matter if a player is from Madrid or from Barcelona. We’re all playing for the same country and we’re a crop of players that gives their very best for this sport and puts everything else to one side. We simply love football and whatever club team we play for, here we all pull on the same shirt.
We’ve got a great friendship going in the dressing room. I think it’s very important to have a good atmosphere within the squad and Iker, the captain, is often the first to try and foster that. He loves a joke and he’s a very humble and very normal guy. He likes to get the squad together and for us to do things together. It’s wonderful having him as captain, a real privilege.