By Mark Doyle in Salvador
Xavi says Spain have no intention of abandoning ‘tiki-taka’ ahead of their World Cup opener against Netherlands, proudly declaring: “We’ll live or die by our style of play.”
La Roja have won the last three major international tournaments with a possession-orientated brand of football that some pundits believe other teams have now worked out, citing last summer’s 3-0 loss to Brazil in the Confederations Cup final as a case in point.
Netherlands are expected to play three central defenders and two defensive midfielders in Friday’s eagerly-awaited Group B showdown in Salvador on Friday in a bid to frustrate Spain’s attempts to pass and move – but Xavi sees no reason why the world champions should change their approach.
“It’s a repeat of the 2010 final, so we know Netherlands are a very tough rival,” the Barcelona ace told reporters at the Arena Fonte Nova on Thursday.
“ They have very fast attackers, so they’re very good at the counterattack, but also strong in defence.
“But we have our own style of play. We’ve been playing that way for many years and we’ll try to impose our style on them.
“Our style of play is very clear. We want to dominate the game; keep possession. We’ve had this style for many years and had a great many successes, so I think it would be a mistake to change it.
“All of our players have adapted to it by now. We’re going to win or die with this style of play. We want to make history again with this style of play.”
Xavi acknowledges, though, that Netherlands are more than capable of upsetting Spain’s rhythm, not least because they are coached by the man who gave him his first big break at Barcelona, Louis van Gaal.
“I have extraordinary memories of him,” the 34-year-old enthused. “He was very frank; marvellous with me. He believed in me 100 per cent. I am very grateful to him.”
Xavi also feels that Spain can ill afford to be complacent against a Netherlands outfit that will be spearheaded by Arjen Robben and Robin van Persie, with Wesley Sneijder tucked in behind.
“They have three very experienced attackers,” the playmaker warned. “Lately they’ve been playing with five at the back. I think we’ll have more possession but I think they’ll play a good game.”
Robben, of course, had a couple of excellent chance to win the 2010 final for Netherlands, only to be foiled on both occasions by Iker Casillas in the Spain goal.
The Real Madrid shot-stopper is still his country’s No.1 and he is looking forward to renewing acquaintances with his former team-mate.
“Robben played with me with two seasons,” the goalkeeper reminisced at a press conference in Salvador. “He was a vital player for us back then. But then, he’s always been a decisive player.
“There have been times when he’s been luckier than me in our personal duels – but then the other way around.
“But Robben, along with Van Persie and Sneijder ... these are three very important pillars with a lot of international experience and Netherlands’ chances rely greatly on that triangle.”
Casillas insisted, though, that what happened in Johannesburg in 2010 will have no bearing on what unfolds at the Fonte Nova on Friday evening.
“These are two very different games,” the Roja skipper insisted. “The game four years ago has nothing to do with the game [on Friday].
“We’d like to repeat our victory in South Africa. But we know it will be difficult. We are the favourites but everyone wants to play well against Spain.
“But we are always motivated. We’re trying to get that second star for our country. We’re seen as the best national team in the world and everyone is going to do their very best to beat us.
“But if we have the enthusiasm, ambition and humility that made us champions four years ago, we can progress and hopefully retain the title we win in 2010.”