2013 was a special year for Xavi both on and off the pitch. The midfielder’s performances for Barcelona during yet another title-winning campaign earned him a place in the FIFA/FIFAPro World XI, while he also helped Spain book a ticket to what will be his fourth FIFA World CupTM. Perhaps even more significantly, though, he and long-standing girlfriend Nuria Cunillera tied the knot in July.
The biggest blot on the iconic string-puller’s copybook came in the FIFA Confederations Cup final, where Brazil put on a masterclass on the way to defeating La Roja 3-0. FIFA.com caught up with Xavi to discuss that match, why playing at home will not necessarily be an advantage to Brazil at the World Cup, Spain’s desire to retain their crown and his passion for football.
FIFA.com: Xavi, 2013 was a very special year for you, for a number of reasons. What was your highlight?
Xavi: There were several. Looking back, it was a very good year. We came up short in the Spanish Cup and Champions League semi-finals against Real Madrid and Bayern, but it was an amazing feat to win the league the way we did, considering the circumstances surrounding Tito Vilanova’s illness. I think that brought the squad even closer together, inspiring us to go on to win the title with a historic tally of 100 points. At international level, we qualified for the World Cup convincingly, despite having been drawn in a really tricky group alongside France. Winning in Paris was a big ask, but we pulled it off. The low point was the Confederations Cup final, in which Brazil were the better team. But all in all, it was a great year, particularly overcoming adversity to win the league title against the backdrop of the Tito situation. That was an incredible achievement.
I notice you didn’t mention your wedding!
We were talking football, right? (laughs). There’s that too. I feel very at ease in my private life. The wedding was the best day of my life – it was very emotional. I’m over the moon.
Even if your wife tells you off for watching too much football?
Yeah (laughs). Look, it’s my passion and my wife knows that. It’s what I enjoy most, what I get my kicks from, so I couldn’t be happier. I’ll be watching football for the rest of my life – you can bet on it. It’s what I love.
You are known as a keen tactical thinker. From that perspective, what is your explanation for the gulf in class on display between Brazil and Spain in the Confederations Cup final?
My take is that we weren’t at the races physically. The semi-final against Italy, which went to extra-time, really took its toll on us, and scoring in the first minute allowed Brazil to shake off the pressure of playing at home. It was a game in which everything went against us and they got all the breaks. But credit where credit’s due: Brazil played better on the day. Nevertheless, the whole experience will stand us in good stead for the World Cup. Now we’ve had a taste of the weather and we know what we’ll be up against if we face Brazil. In my opinion, they did well to overcome the pressure of being the host nation.
There has been a lot of talk about the rendition of the Brazilian national anthem before that match and the intimidating atmosphere at the Maracana. To what extent do the fans have an impact on a team’s performance at such a high level?
Having the crowd on your side is always a good thing, but it can also be a double-edged sword. It can mean added pressure, which you have to handle. Brazil scored in the first minute and then in the last minute of the first half, which gives you a huge boost. I still remember David Luiz’s clearance from Pedro’s shot, which would have levelled the scores and changed the complexion of the match. But that’s not to take anything away from a superb Brazil performance: they pressed us, moved the ball around well and did a good job of nullifying us by closing us down. They stopped us from playing.
Now, as fate would have it, you could have the chance for revenge in the Round of 16 at the World Cup…
Here’s hoping! Or why not in the Final? Obviously anything could happen, considering it’s a World Cup and the difficult group we’ve been drawn in – and their group is no breeze either. But football always gives you the opportunity to get revenge. Here’s hoping it’s at the World Cup and at as late a stage as possible.
Is the prospect of revenge something you've spoken about within the camp? Not at all. We’re focused on the fact that we have been drawn in a really very tricky group, one of the toughest at the World Cup. We are going there to compete and we’re desperate to give a good account of ourselves and retain the Trophy, but we are keeping our feet on the ground. We know how hard it is to play at the World Cup to begin with, let alone with the group we’ve been handed. It’s got to be one of the two hardest groups, if not the toughest.
Where did you watch the draw?
I was at home, so there.
And what was your reaction when you saw the Netherlands come out of the hat?
Well… football is funny like that. A match that was the World Cup Final last time round is now a group-opener. That’s how draws work. It’s pot luck, so we’ve got the Dutch again and a very strong-looking Chile, whom we’ve faced several times recently. And then there’s Australia, who are a bit of an unknown quantity. On paper it’s a really tough group.
Are we right in thinking you have said this will be your last World Cup?
That’s right, almost certainly. (laughs)
Does that make the build-up different to previous tournaments?
I don’t think so. I’ll be chomping at the bit and I hope to be in good shape physically. Right now I’m feeling good and I’m looking forward to being involved and having a great World Cup. Here’s hoping Spain get as far as possible and if we manage to defend the Trophy, knowing how difficult it is will make it all the sweeter. Of course I’d love to go out on a high.
Remember to check out FIFA.com on Tuesday 4 February to read the second part of this interview, in which Xavi talks Barcelona, Gerardo Martino, Andres Iniesta and what the future holds for his career.