The World Cup Alphabet: X is for…


I could have gone the easy option with this letter and gone for X-Treme goals or X-treme games like some shit promotion for an energy drink. I could have also gone for the best ginger to ever play for Spain in Xabi Alonso. I could have also mentioned Daniel Xuereb of France, the first to have a name beginning with X to play in a World Cup in 1986. There’s also Xherdan Shaqiri from Switzerland. He is known as ‘The Alpine Messi’ despite stinking up the Premier League with Stoke City this season. He is also officially the shortest player to be in Russia standing at a hobbit-like 5ft 4in.

Xavi is to be talked about though. Not because of the first letter of his name but because he is only behind Messi and Ronaldo as the best of his generation.

Xavi was born in 1980 with his father a generational Catalan playing for one of the lesser sides in the Barcelona area. Xavi was a prodigous talent and came through the famous Barcelona La Masia youth system as a star pupil. Making his debut for Barca at age 18 the financial plight of the club meant he got more of a chance in the senior side as they slowly rebuilt through financial woes to take on Real Madrid’s galacticos.

At International level he helped Spain win the 1999 Under-20 World Cup. He was also part of the side that won a silver medal at the Sydney Olympics with his future Barca teammate Samuel Eto part of the victorious Cameroonian side. In 2002 he would play in his first of four World Cups now emerging as a classy creative midfielder. He would play in two group games and score a penalty in their controversial shoot out loss to hosts South Korea in the quarter finals.

Slowly he was seen as the player to take club and country to glory. The midfielder had a finite ability to find space, to thread the ball through, to create magic. He said it was simply just looking up and seeing what was around you when you had the ball. He said that was the best bit of advice he ever got at La Masia.

By 2006 Xavi was one of the gun midfielders in Spain. He came back from injury to come off the bench in Barca’s drought breaking 2006 Champions League win against Arsenal. He was also a key component of a Spanish side that again fell short in a World Cup going out to eventual finalist France in the second round. A disappointing end for a much hyped side.

By 2008 though a Spanish national side so full of talent had finally come up with a system that meant they went from being the best team on paper to being the best team in the tournament. The Tiki-Taka method was essentially to always keep the ball away from your opponent and then to deliver that killer pass to score a goal. Tiki taka is all about passing and moving without the ball and making the game very simple. Every player on the field, no matter what position they play, even the goalkeeper must have a good first touch and know how to keep the ball.

Spain would finally win a senior tournament defeating Germany 1-0 in the final of Euro 2008 with Xavi setting up Fernando Torres for the goal and winning player of the tournament. Xavi by now toyed with the opposition with help from countryman Andres Iniesta and the boy wonder Leo Messi at Barca and with Spain he was with Iniesta, Cesc Fabregas, Senna, Alonso and others off the prolific production line of talent Spain was producing. Xavi’s ability to find space and keep possession with little one-two passes was the stuff of folklore…witchcraft even.

By the 2010 World Cup in South Africa Spain were the clear favourites to win but could they win it? Would tiki-taka be like Joga Bonito (1982 version) and Total Football and fail when it really comes to the crunch against a side with a bit more cunning and guile? It seemed that way initially when in Durban they lost their opening game to Switzerland 1-0. The knives were out, the Spanish chocolate soldiers were doing it again some thought.

This pricked the pride of Xavi and his teammates. From their second group game through to the final they would only concede one more goal with a heap of 1-0 and 2-0 results seeing them off other chancers including the red hot Germany in the semi final thanks to Xavi’s pinpoint corner for fellow Catalan Carlos Puyol to head in. In the final Xavi would cover some 15 kilometers as a goal deep in to extra time from Iniesta won Spain their first ever World Cup. Xavi would be in the team of the tournament and cover more ground on average per game than any other player.

Spain creamed them all again in 2012 at the Euros, Xavi again a star. By 2014 for the World Cup in Brazil they were still brilliant but getting on a bit. Too old too slow too good? Xavi and Iniesta were well in to their thirties but persisted to try and make it back to back World Cups but would ultimately fail going out at the group stage with the Aussies. From here Xavi retired from Spanish duty and left Barca soon after to feed the retirement fund in Qatar.

A master of his craft and one of the greats. People will debate about Messi and Ronaldo but none should forget Xavi and his eight La Liga titles, four Champions Leagues, three Spanish Cups, eight super cups, two World club Cups, two European Championships and one World Cup.

We should be blessed to have seen such a player play in such teams.


To read the rest of Dennis’ fascinating World Cup Alphabet, click here:

About Dennis Gedling

RTR FM Presenter. Dilettante. Traffic Nerd. Behind the Almanac World Cup 100. Keen Cat, Cardie, Socceroo/Matilda, Glory Bhoy.

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