Euro 2012: Strain in Spain camp as Xavi opens old wounds
Xavi has exposed the tensions between the Barcelona and Real Madrid contingents in the Spanish squad ahead of their European title defence by taking a swipe at Jose Mourinho.
The Barcelona playmaker admitted that his club captain, Carles Puyol, and national coach Vicente del Bosque had to intervene to repair fractured morale between club rivals. Those strains are unlikely to be assisted by Xavi's latest assessment of Madrid's recent title triumph as merely "efficient" and his questioning of Mourinho's status.
"Mourinho won't go down in football history," said Xavi. "For me Pep Guardiola is the best and he has been during the four years he's been in charge at Barca, because he's revolutionised football.
"Barca continue to be the reference point for football the world over. Barca have also been an example, Madrid not so much. They've only recognised that we were better when we won. We've always been respectful, but they haven't been so gracious. It's a personal feeling."
In a TV interview, Xavi said Barcelona's 5-0 La Liga annihilation of Madrid in 2010 -- which he described as "the best moment of the Guardiola era" -- damaged relationships in the Spanish squad. "It caused problems with some of my friends," he said. "Puyol and Del Bosque were important in making sure everything settled down in the end."
If Xavi's comments were a reference to historical friction in the camp, his current observations are hardly likely to win him plaudits for keeping the peace. Nevertheless, Spain begin their defence against Italy in Gdansk tomorrow widely expected to prolong their recent success.
Their Euro 2012 opener revives memories of the fixture that was the catalyst for the golden period they are currently enjoying, according to defender Gerard Pique.
The Barcelona centre-half said victory over Italy in the quarter-final four years ago was the moment Spain cast off their insecurities, elevating their status from nearly men to the eventual European and world champions.
"That win against Italy changed our thinking. Spain used to play not to lose, now we play to win," Pique said.
Four years ago, Italy held out for a 0-0 draw in Vienna before the Spanish emerged victorious 4-2 in a penalty shoot-out.
Not for the first time, the Italians go into the championships in the midst of an off-field scandal, match-fixing allegations dominating their build-up.
Similar problems preceded their World Cup triumph in 2006, so the Spanish do not believe the Italians' morale will be unduly affected.
"It seems when Italy is hurt it is at its most dangerous," Pique said. "When people believe that Italy will not make a great contribution, that is when they do best. They are one of the strongest in Europe and the world, so you have to be very focused."
The former Manchester United defender admitted he would be wary of Manchester City's enigmatic striker, Mario Balotelli. "Balotelli can receive the ball and score or create a goal when you least expect it, so you have to watch him," he said.
Despite being a late inclusion in Spain's 23-man squad, Fernando Torres appears to be forcing his way into the line-up. It is believed Del Bosque will favour Torres ahead of Alvaro Negredo and Fernando Llorente. (© Daily Telegraph, London)
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