Ahead of the 2010 World Cup, when the legendary Diego Maradona was asked which Spanish player he would like to have in his team, he picked Xavi Hernandez. “Every time I see him play I am fulfilled,” he said.
It was no exaggeration, as Xavi was the fulcrum of the Spanish side, its talented conductor and the master of the slide rule pass. Diminutive in size – he was 5 foot 6 inches – he burst the myth that physicality was everything in a central midfielder. By his own admission, his greatest quality was “mental speed”.
In South Africa, he didn’t disappoint. Going into the tournament, he had more assists (20) than any other player in Europe's top leagues in the season which had just concluded. At the World Cup, as Spain won its first-ever title, he topped neither the goals chart nor the assists’. But his worth was reflected in the competition-best 544 passes he completed.
The unparalleled Xavi also covered a distance of 80 kms during the whole tournament. He was directly responsible for Spain’s victories in both the round-of-16 match against Portugal and the semifinal against Germany, both being identical 1-0 wins. Against Portugal, when it seemed that Spain’s creative energy was sucked out, it was his deft backheel which helped David Villa score the winner. Then against Germany, he found Carles Puyol from a corner, as the latter headed home the decisive goal. In the race for the FIFA Ballon d’Or that year, Xavi finished third behind Barcelona team-mates Lionel Messi and Andres Iniesta. But Spain’s triumph was victory of a collective than that of an individualist and Xavi, in the way he knit together the Spanish team, demonstrated it the best.
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