Xavi Was Key to Spain's Run of Dominance

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Xavi Was Key to Spain's Run of Dominance
Frank Augstein/Associated Press

Barcelona and Spain midfielder Xavi Hernandez announced his international retirement on Tuesday, per The Guardian. His career ended with a whimper as La Roja were eliminated from the group stage of the 2014 FIFA World Cup this summer.

Many pundits claimed that the embarrassing performance by Spain in Brazil signaled the end of an era. That might have been debatable, but now that Xavi has retired from the national team, this claim is no longer in doubt.

Xavi won a World Cup and two European Championships, earning 133 caps in the process. He was the brains of the operation. Everything ran through the brilliant footballing mind of the 34-year-old. Barcelona's success during the Pep Guardiola era was also thanks in large part to the midfield maestro.

A lot of Spain's veteran players underwhelmed in Brazil. Iker Casillas was woeful in goal, Xavi looked fatigued and the usually reliable center-back pairing of Sergio Ramos and Gerard Pique were torn apart on multiple occasions.

Spain wasn't an offensive juggernaut during any of their major tournament wins. La Roja scored 12 goals during Euro 2008, but just four of those came in the knockout stage. For the 2010 World Cup, that total dipped to eight. Their Euro 2012 campaign was level with 2008 at 12, but that was due to dominant wins over Ireland and Italy.

Jon Super/Associated Press
Xavi was integral in every meaningful match for Spain.

Xavi played a pivotal role in most of those goals. It was his assist that sent Fernando Torres in alone on German goalkeeper Jens Lehmann to notch the only tally of the 2008 final.

In Spain's 1-0 win over Germany in the semi-finals of the 2010 World Cup, Xavi delivered the corner that resulted in Carles Puyol's goal late in the second half. 

The Euro 2012 final was a blowout, also thanks to Xavi. He assisted Fernando Torres and Jordi Alba while also starting the buildup to the opening goal. Spain went on to win 4-0, clinching a historic third consecutive major trophy.

Xavi has been an integral figure during Spain's so-called "golden era," even though he is not widely considered as the key playmaker and is not afforded the respect that he should command.

Thiago Alcantara could be a potential replacement for Xavi for the Spanish national team, but no one can really adequately fill his boots. It might take a while to get used to the change, but this has to be expected given that the Barcelona product was benched during La Roja's final two matches of the World Cup.

Barcelona's era has technically ended as well. It's speculated Xavi will accept a lesser role in order to stay with the Catalan giants, per Dermot Ledwith of ESPN FC.

That's not to say that Barca still won't be successful, as they could very well win a couple of trophies this upcoming season. However, the "tiki-taka" philosophy was a revolutionary success due to Xavi's involvement, and Los Cules probably won't be able to achieve a winning season using that system without him.

It seems as if life after Xavi has begun for both his club and country. However, he'll never be forgotten and should go down as one of the best players of all time.

It's time for the Royal Spanish Football Federation to turn the page and start building for the future. This is now truly the end of an era for one of the greatest teams ever assembled.

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