Barca's Spain crop on cusp of near-perfect year

MADRID - For the eight Spain internationals in Barcelona's probable starting 11 for Saturday's Champions League Final, victory over Manchester United at Wembley would put a gilt edge on an already spectacularly successful year.

Goalkeeper Victor Valdes, defenders Gerard Pique and Carles Puyol, midfielders Sergio Busquets, Xavi and Andres Iniesta and forwards Pedro and David Villa - the only one of the group who is not a product of Barca's youth school - came away from last year's World Cup in South Africa with winners medals.

They have since added the Spanish Super Cup and the Spanish league title, the club's third in a row, and narrowly missed out on a King's Cup triumph when they were beaten 1-0 in the final by great rivals Real Madrid.

At only 22, Busquets has already won more titles than most professionals dream of - 10 in three seasons including the 2009 Champions League - and has a chance at Euro 2012 with defending champions Spain to win the only major title that eludes him.

"It's a dream," Busquets, whose goalkeeper father Carles played for Barca in the 1990s, told Reuters in an interview earlier this year.

"Of course you never think that everything will go so well, that you could achieve so much in so little time," he added.

"But when you look at the team and its philosophy and then at how it all turned out, well, it was normal."

Playmaker Xavi, who turned 31 in January, is the creative engine at the heart of the Spain and Barca teams and preventing him from exerting his customary control will be key to United's chances of success on Saturday.

Together with Iniesta, he was on a shortlist of three for this year's World Player of the Year award that went to club team mate Lionel Messi for a second consecutive year.

SOMETHING EXTRA

One of the reasons for the recent success of Spain and Barca is the close relationship between the players who learned their trade in the Catalan club's famed "La Masia" youth school, which also produced current coach Pep Guardiola, Xavi said this week.

"Playing with people who come from within the club gives you something extra," Xavi said in an interview with Spanish daily El Pais.

"We have a very good relationship on and off the pitch. We invite each other round to our houses, we do things together away from football," he added.

"I have never experienced that before and I have been here for 13 years. The players from the youth system provide commitment and continuity."

Like Xavi, Iniesta has been instrumental in an historic year for Spanish football, managing to stay free of the injuries that have dogged his career and netting the dramatic winning goal against Netherlands in the World Cup final in Johannesburg.

Despite the success, he has not lost the hunger to add to his 16 career titles, including two Champions Leagues and five domestic leagues with Barca and the world and European championships with Spain.

"The European Cup is a very special competition, very attractive, that gives us all an extra motivation," the 27-year-old, who became a father for the first time this year, told Barca TV last week.

"I have always seen it as something special and I feel priveleged to to have been able to enjoy playing in Champions League games and have the good fortune to win two titles."