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Xavi touches a raw nerve

Spain’s Fernando Torres with teammates during a training session in Gniewino

Gniewino: Xavi has exposed the tensions between the Barcelona and Real Madrid contingent in the Spanish squad ahead of their European title defence by taking a swipe at Jose Mourinho.

The Barcelona playmaker admitted his club captain, Carles Puyol, and national coach Vicente del Bosque had to intervene to repair fractured morale between club rivals.

Those strains are unlikely to be assisted by Xavi’s latest assessment of Madrid’s recent title triumph as merely “efficient” and his questioning of Mourinho’s status.

“Mourinho won’t go down in football history,” said Xavi. “For me Guardiola is the best, and he has been during the four years he’s been in charge at Barca, because he’s revolutionised football.

“Barca continue to be the reference point for football the world over. Barca has also been an example, Madrid not so much. They’ve only recognised that we were better when we won. We’ve always been respectful, but they haven’t been so gracious. It’s a personal feeling.”

In an interview on Canal+, Xavi said Barcelona’s 5-0 La Liga annihilation of Madrid in 2010 — which he described as “the best moment of the Guardiola era” — damaged relationships in the Spain squad.

“It caused problems with some of my friends,” he said. “Puyol and Del Bosque were important in making sure everything settled down in the end.”

If Xavi’s comments were referencing historical friction in the camp, his current observations are hardly like him to win him plaudits for democracy. Spain, meanwhile, will go into Sunday’s Group C opener against old foes Italy with a swagger that was missing from past encounters after a pivotal moment in their rivalry four years ago.

It is widely accepted that the moment the Spanish turned from underachievers into an all-conquering outfit was when Cesc Fabregas stroked in the decisive penalty in the quarter final shootout against the Italians at Euro 2008.

Italy had been something of a bogey team for Spain until then but, four years later and with continental and world titles under their belts, Vicente del Bosque’s side now hold the upper hand.

“I think it changed the mentality of the national team,” central defender Gerard Pique, who was watching Euro 2008 on holiday in Majorca, told a news conference at Spain’s training base in Gniewino, Poland on Friday.

“Before Spain played to avoid losing but afterwards they played to win,” the 25-year-old said.

Striker Fernando Llorente, who also watched the match in Vienna on television from Spain, added: “It was a turning point. Beating Italy and getting to the semi-finals made us believe in ourselves.”