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Spain midfielder Xavi set for 100th cap

 Chelsea's John Terry reacts during their English Premier League soccer match against  Manchester City at Stamford Bridge Stadium, London, Sunday, Mar...
 Patrice Evra, left, and Franck Ribery, right, run with their teammates during a training session at Clairefontaine training center, in Clairefontaine...
 Franck Ribery, left, and Patrice Evra, right, are seen during a training session at Clairefontaine training center, in Clairefontaine, west of Paris,...

Britain Soccer Premier League

Chelsea's John Terry reacts during their English Premier League soccer match against Manchester City at Stamford Bridge Stadium, London, Sunday, Mar...

France Luxembourg Euro 2012 Soccer

Patrice Evra, left, and Franck Ribery, right, run with their teammates during a training session at Clairefontaine training center, in Clairefontaine...

France Luxembourg Euro 2012 Soccer

Franck Ribery, left, and Patrice Evra, right, are seen during a training session at Clairefontaine training center, in Clairefontaine, west of Paris,...

Barcelona star Xavi Hernandez is set to win his 100th cap for Spain when the world champions resume their 2012 European Championship qualifying campaign on Friday looking to stay perfect.
Xavi, widely regarded as one of the world's best midfielders, will become only the second Spanish outfield player to reach a century of appearances, after striker Raul Gonzalez.
With a winner's medal from Euro 2008 in his cabinet alongside one from last year's World Cup, and having won every major honor in the club game with a star-studded Barcelona team, the 31-year-old Xavi has had an incredible career that is showing no sign of slowing up.
"During the World Cup, I realized I was close (to 100) and, if the coach wanted, it would happen," Xavi said. "I didn't ever consider playing 100 games (for Spain) until very recently. And it is very exciting."
Spain is one of four countries, along with Germany, Norway and the Netherlands, to have a 100 percent record so far in qualifying and next faces a home match against the Czech Republic in Granada in Group I.
Heavy defeats in friendlies to Portugal and Argentina toward the end of 2010 suggested the glory years for Spain might be on the wane, but a 1-0 victory over Colombia put the team back on track.
And Xavi is still the heartbeat and passing maestro of a side filled with players from his club and whose style mirrors that exhibited by the Catalan giants. But how long can he go on?
"I don't know, 100 more and I stop?" he told El Pais newspaper. "Seriously, while they want me they can count on me. For the moment, I am thinking about the Euros, but maybe I will make it to Brazil (for the World Cup in 2014). That wouldn't be bad, would it?"
Xavi's Spain teammates are just happy to be on the same pitch as him.
"An incredible player, among the best Spanish players of all time," striker Fernando Llorente said. "He is achieving everything in the world of football _ for Barcelona and the national team, he is winning everything and it is amazing to see him play all these years at this level."
The Czechs are second in the group, three points adrift.
"We have to respect the Czech Republic because they have been a reference in Europe for many years and they have very dangerous players capable of getting good results," Spain coach Vicente del Bosque said.
Germany, beaten 1-0 by Spain in the 2008 final in Vienna, will also defend an unbeaten start when it hosts bottom side Kazakhstan in Group A.
The Netherlands, who lost to Spain in extra time in the World Cup final in South Africa, have won four from four _ like Germany _ but their perfect record will be threatened when they travel to second-place Hungary on Friday.
Norway tops Group H, above Portugal, on a maximum haul of nine points and next plays Scandinavian rival Denmark in Saturday's Nordic derby.
France is another team in prime form in qualifying. After the debacle of its chaotic World Cup campaign in South Africa, the French began Group D under new coach Laurent Blanc with an embarrassing home defeat to Belarus but have bounced back by beating Bosnia-Herzegovina, Romania and Luxembourg in successive qualifiers.
Since then, Les Bleus have defeated both England and Brazil 1-0 in friendlies, so the good times appear to be back for the country that dominated world football a decade ago, winning the 1998 World Cup and Euro 2000. It would be a major surprise if their renaissance did not continue in Luxembourg on Friday.
France welcomes back winger Franck Ribery and defender Patrice Evra for the first time since the World Cup. The pair had been banned for their part in a squad strike, when players refused to train because forward Nicolas Anelka was sent home for insulting then-coach Raymond Domenech.
Blanc said he wants Ribery to show his qualities after returning to form recently for Bayern Munich.
"I think he really wanted to get back in the French team. He questioned whether he would ever come back _ let's not hide that, he wasn't sure of his destiny," Blanc said.
Elsewhere, Group B leader Russia is away against Armenia on Saturday and Italy looks to stay top of Group C when it takes on second-place Slovenia away.
England, which is second in Group G behind Montenegro, has Chelsea defender John Terry back as captain for the short trip to British rival Wales on Saturday, and Group F leader Croatia visits third-place Georgia.


Updated : 2021-05-17 10:03 GMT+08:00