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'We will win or die by tiki-taka,' says Xavi on the eve of Holland rematch

The 34-year-old Spanish midfielder was in bullish form ahead of their Group B opener against the Dutch.

Xavi speaking at yesterday's press conference.
Xavi speaking at yesterday's press conference.
Image: Christophe Ena

XAVI HERNANDEZ BELIEVES rumours of the demise of Spain’s revolutionary “tiki-taka” style of play have been greatly exaggerated as he last night launched a strong defence of the tactic that has delivered two European Championships and a World Cup for Spain in the past six years.

“We will win or die by this style of play,” said the Barcelona midfielder most associated with the possession-based philosophy. The 34-year-old playmaker will earn his 133rd cap tonight against the Netherlands as Spain begin their defence of the World Cup amid doubts that their international reign of glory is on the verge of collapse.

Barcelona’s travails this season, where the only tournament they won was the curtain-raising Super Cup, has added to the scepticism surrounding Spain, who will most likely field five of the club’s players — Xavi, Gerard Pique, Jordi Alba, Sergio Busquets and Andres Iniesta — in the Group B opener against the Netherlands.

However, Xavi and Iniesta’s importance to Spain’s style of play cannot be underestimated — they set the pace of the game and with short rapid passes possess an innate ability to protect possession, which is the absolute key for the defending champions.

Fears Xavi is slowing down in his 35th year, coupled with the most recent Champions League titles going to Real Madrid and Bayern Munich, teams more associated with counter-attacking football, have contributed to Spain’s fourth-place in the outright betting, behind Brazil, Argentina and Germany.

Tonight’s meeting with Louis Van Gaal’s Holland will be a good barometer of how Spain are placed in this new world where speed is key. The incoming Manchester United manager’s team will likely set up with five defenders and rely on the speed of Arjen Robben and cunning of Wesley Sneijder to create chances for Robin Van Persie.

Xavi said he could see no reason for Spain, the reigning world and European champions, to alter their game for the Netherlands, or anyone else for that matter.

“The style of play is very clear. We try to dominate the game and keep the ball. We have had this philosophy for years and it would be a mistake to change it. Our results in recent years justify this philosophy and all our players have adjusted to play this way,” he said.
“I think we will have more possession than the Netherlands.”

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Spain beat Netherlands to win World Cup Xavi facing Holland in the 2010 final. Source: AP/Press Association Images

His manager Vicente del Bosque dismissed suggestions Barcelona’s poor season was a harbinger of doom for the international team, citing the all-Madrid Champions League final won by Real and Sevilla’s Europa League triumph as proof that Spanish football was not reliant on the Catalan giants.

“This is a a football club in Spain but the national squad is a completely different thing — totally separate from the club. The success of Spanish football is clear, the clubs are dominant in Europe, this season we had two Champions League finalists and the winners of the Europa League.

“There is no direct connection between ourselves and Barcelona’s season,” said Del Bosque, who took over from Luis Aragones after he had guided Spain to their breakthrough Euro 2008 victory.

Del Bosque has great faith in the team he has built and recognised that the Netherlands’ rate of turnover since losing in Johannesburg in 2010 is much higher than that of his very stable squad.

It is quite true that the Netherlands have changed a lot in the last four years,” he said. “We have done the opposite. We have a stable squad since 2012.”

The one significant addition to the Spain side that won Euro 2012 is the Brazilian-born Atletico Madrid striker Diego Costa. A powerful man, this deadly finisher offers something different to David Villa, Fernando Torres or Cesc Fabregas, who Del Bosque utilised in a false nine position for the Euro 2012 final.

“With a false nine you are playing with a player who is permanently on the verge of offside. We have had success with both styles and have the players to cover any style of play that might come up,” said Del Bosque.

“We’re not going to give you the line up, not because we want to play our cards close to our chest, but because we want all 23 players to be totally ready for kick-off. We will be playing with the 11 players that I believe are best for this match.”

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Mikey Stafford

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