After 133 appearances and 100 victories in a Spain shirt, FC Barcelona midfielder Xavi Hernández has announced his retirement from international football.
The central midfielder, one of the finest footballers of his generation, is credited with being the metronome that made the historic treble-winning Spain team tick. "I'm leaving the national side; I think my time there has come to an end," said the 34-year-old, voted player of the tournament at UEFA EURO 2008.
"It has been a marvellous period – a great one for me. It has been an honour to have achieved so many triumphs. I leave happy and proud – happy also because the manager Vicente del Bosque is staying on. My time has come to an end – I wish everyone the best and will now be just another fan."
With Xavi gone, and Xabi Alonso's international future undecided, much is expected of Club Atlético de Madrid youngster Koke. The 22-year-old enjoyed a breakthrough campaign last season and starred as his side reached the UEFA Champions League final, scoring the goal that knocked out Xavi's Barcelona in the quarter-finals.
Seasoned campaigners Andrés Iniesta, Sergio Busquets and Cesc Fàbregas remain part of the national-team fold, and with emerging talents such as Thiago Alcántara at FC Bayern München and Ander Iturraspe of Athletic Club, the future – even without Xavi – appears bright for Spain.
After their early exit from the FIFA World Cup in Brazil, questions had been asked of the Spanish style of play, amid suggestions their possession-oriented 'tiki-taka' was outdated. However, the fact Del Bosque will continue as coach for the UEFA EURO 2016 campaign indicates Spain have not lost faith in their approach.
Speaking at a press conference, Xavi said Del Bosque had persuaded him to play on after the midfielder had considered retiring from 'La Roja' after UEFA EURO 2012 – though the coach could not delay his decision indefinitely.
"We have lost a unique player," admitted Del Bosque. ''He has been key to the style of play that has brought us so much success. We will miss him on and off the pitch.''
Spain take on the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia in their first UEFA EURO 2016 Group C game on 8 September, with Belarus, Luxembourg, Slovakia and Ukraine also looking to hinder their progress to the finals in France.
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