Xavi remains key for Spain
Potchefstroom - While David Villa has set his sights on being the World Cup's leading scorer, Spain's game will pass through the boots of midfield genius Xavi Hernandez.
Xavi Hernandez (AFP)
Forced to wait until day six to begin their campaign, Spain's players are itching to get started against Switzerland in Group H on Wednesday.
"We want to start the World Cup on the right foot, that's fundamental," defender Sergio Ramos said on Monday. "We're very motivated to get started, we want to show off what we've been doing here for a long time now."
Midfielder Xavi is the key to Spain's fluid style of play.
"Our team's style over the past few years has been marked by touch football, by a lot of quick movement, especially in the center of the field. Though we all contribute to this, Xavi especially does," Villa said. "He's the lynchpin."
The 30-year-old Xavi, who was named best player at Euro 2008, has been vital to Spain since a disappointing World Cup campaign four years ago. Former coach Luis Aragones decided to base the national team's play around Barcelona's possession based style after that 2006 early exit to France.
Villa knows his chances of being leading scorer in South Africa - as he was at Euro 2008 - depends on his team.
"It would be nice because it would mean a lot of goals for the team," Villa said. "Goals are achieved through the work of the team."
Xavi just helped Barcelona defend its league crown and has won two Champions Leagues to go with five league titles since his club debut in 1998. Xavi is fifth on Spain's all-time list with 87 appearances.
"He's the one who controls the play in the team, he provides our team's balance. He plays a fundamental role," Ramos said. "Inside the locker room he also has a lot of personality and brings a lot of experience. Apart from being a good player, he's a great friend."
Xavi is among 11 current squad members who were in Germany four years ago and is among the core group that has been contributed to Spain's recent success, which has seen the team lose only once in its past 49 games -stretching to November 2006.
"The most important thing that we have is unity within the group, and that's reflected on the field," Ramos said. "We have a style and we've maintained our regularity ... and that's down to the indisputable quality of players we have."
Both Ramos and Villa lauded Germany's performance in a 4-0 win over Australia on Sunday, saying its Euro 2008 final opponent is a contender to reach the July 11 final at Soccer City.
Many have earmarked Spain as serious World Cup title challengers, but Ramos said the team felt no added pressure.
"The press and people have given us the title of favorites. But we're going to respect all teams the same," Ramos said. "It would be an error to believe we're favourites. We're in the first phase and there are some important games to go."