Soccer

Spain in Euro 2012 final despite a dip from Xavi

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KIEV, Ukraine (AP)

While Xavi Hernandez hasn't made a major impact at the European Championship, Spain's playmaking midfielder knows he still has Sunday's final against Italy to change that.

Xavi was named player of the tournament when Spain won Euro 2008, and the midfielder has been regarded as the driving force behind the 2010 World Cup winners' recent successes going into the match against Italy.

But Xavi admits he hasn't had the same impact in Poland and Ukraine, which follows a long club season where he was sometimes sidelined by a nagging calf injury. He was replaced in the semifinal penalty shootout victory over Portugal due to fatigue.

''I feel good, I feel like I've participated in all our victories though I would have like to have had more of an influence in more games but you can't always,'' Xavi said on Saturday. ''I try to do all I can so the team wins. I do everything that the team needs and nothing more.''

The 32-year-old Barcelona playmaker scored a career high 10 league goals this season but hasn't quite carried over the club form into the tournament. A season that started in August with heated Spanish Super Cup matches against rival Real Madrid only ended with a Copa del Rey triumph on May 25.

Spain is bidding to win its third straight major tournament, with West Germany the only other defending champion to have returned to the final after winning the World Cup, in 1976. It lost to Czechoslovakia on penalties.

''This is a fantastic generation of players that have already made history and now we want to continue making history,'' Xavi said at the Olympic Stadium in Kiev. ''We want to continue writing this story tomorrow.''

Sunday's final sees Xavi come up against his Italy equivalent in Andrea Pirlo, whose style and vision on the field has also been credited with leading a revitalized Italy side - one that has played a similar attacking style to Spain at times in the tournament.

''We've been really lucky that we can count on technical players that want to play an attractive style of football, like Pirlo does,'' Xavi said before defending Spain's play at the tournament. The European and world champions have been criticized for a lack of scoring opportunities and goals.

''We never bore of this style of play, we enjoy playing it and we're in a magnificent situation to achieve even more now in this sport,'' he said. ''We prioritize talent over physical force and fans are identifying with this football, just like us. You can't ask for more.''

Coach Vicente del Bosque was certain to start Xavi on Sunday, which would mark his 114th appearance for Spain, where he has been a regular at all levels for over 15 years.

''It's very difficult for Xavi to play poorly, very difficult,'' Del Bosque said. ''He's one of the key players in terms of marking our style of play. His only worry is the team.''

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Paul Logothetis can be reached at: www.twitter.com/PaulLogoAP

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