Master architect Xavi is key to Spain's chances

By Iain Rogers

MADRID (Reuters) - Diego Maradona was asked in November which Spain player he would like to have in his Argentina side.

"Xavi," the 1986 World Cup winner shot back. "Every time I see him play I am fulfilled."

The 30-year-old Xavi is known as "the master architect" in his native country and was setting the standard for creative midfielders even before he led Spain to glory at Euro 2008.

Not many current players can match his composure on the ball or his slide-rule distribution and Barcelona's unprecedented haul of six trophies in 2009 would have been unthinkable without Xavi pulling the strings.

It was his weighted pass that sent Fernando Torres clear to score Spain's winning goal against Germany in the Euro 2008 final and his floated cross that set up Lionel Messi to nod in Barca's second in the 2009 Champions League final.

"The successful playing style of Spain and Barcelona have a lot in common but the most important is the excellence both sides show in the construction of attacks," Spanish soccer magazine Don Balon wrote in January.

"And that is where Xavi shines. Football is a team game but the orchestra sounds a great deal better when a talented conductor is holding the baton."

Born in the town of Terrassa near the Catalan capital, Xavi joined Barca's youth ranks at the age of 11 and broke into the first team in the 1999-2000 season after an injury to Pep Guardiola.

"Quick touches, slipping your marker, triangular interplays, one-twos, depth, pauses, rhythm, touch and go, I help you, I look for you, I stop, I look up, and above all I open up the pitch," is how he describes his trade.

(Editing by Robert Woodward)