Xavi plays down Zidane comparison

GRANADA - Spain midfielder Xavi played down a comparison with Zinedine Zidane on Thursday on the eve of his 100th appearance for his country.

The 31-year-old, who is closing in on Raul's tally of 102 caps, was compared this week to former France playmaker Zidane by Spain team mate Javi Martinez as the world and European champions prepare for Friday's Euro 2012 qualifier against Czech Republic in Granada.

"Those are strong words to compare me with Zidane but in any case for me it's an honour to hear that from a team mate," Xavi said at a news conference in the Andalusian city.

"I have experienced some fantastic years with the national team as part of a wonderful generation of players and I hope to play on for many more," he added.

The Barcelona captain has been crucial to the recent success of his club and country and his creativity and domination of possession in central midfield is the hallmark of the two teams' playing styles.

Zidane, who retired from the France team after he was sent off in the 2006 World Cup Final, was a more attack-minded midfielder capable of scoring breathtaking goals but rarely controlling matches the way Xavi is able to.

Spain captain and goalkeeper Iker Casillas has played with Xavi at various international levels since his mid-teens and said the midfielder would surely go down as one of Spain's greatest players in his position.

"Everyone is fascinated by the way he moves the ball around," Casillas, who is second behind fellow keeper Andoni Zubizarreta on the list of Spain's most-capped players with 117, said at the same news conference.

"He is a reference point on the pitch and people have a lot of respect for him," he added.


Asked whether he would be prepared to give up the captaincy to Xavi on Friday, Casillas added:

"There's a hierarchy and it doesn't depend on me. I wouldn't have any problem with it. He is a great captain, both for Barcelona and Spain."

The Iberian nation top Group I on nine points after three wins from three with the Czechs in second on six points followed by Scotland and Lithuania on four.

Spain coach Vicente del Bosque said at a later news conference he was not worried about the recent poor form of striker Fernando Torres, who has failed to score for Chelsea in seven appearances since joining from Liverpool in January.

"We have confidence in all the players," said Del Bosque, a former Real Madrid player and coach who masterminded Spain's first World Cup triumph in South Africa last year.

"He (Torres) has suffered a change in club and needs time to adapt," he added.

Torres is likely to start up front on Friday alongside strike partner David Villa, who has another chance to become Spain's leading scorer in his own right.

The Barcelona forward is level on 44 goals with Raul, but has made only 71 appearances compared with 102 by the former Real Madrid striker, who last played for Spain in 2006.