Spain legend Xavi Hernández spoke to Diario AS in the final hours before the start of the 2018 World Cup, telling Aritz Gabilondo that the sacking of La Roja coach Julen Lopetegui was a shock - but that the 2010 winners can recover from it and put on a positive showing in Russia.
What are your thoughts on the firing of Lopetegui and everything that has gone on in the Spain camp over the past few days?
The circumstances are not good. Clearly, no-one expected this. Football has a habit of throwing up these kinds of things; everything can change very quickly. Real Madrid announce the appointment of Lopetegui, and obviously that can only have a destabilising effect on the group.
So you think Luis Rubiales was right to sack Lopetegui, then?
I think Rubiales did the right thing. The coach has to set an example. In a competition as big as a World Cup, all eyes are the tournament and everyone knows how important playing a World Cup is for the national team. [Then] his appointment by Madrid is confirmed, and nobody can understand it. I think it was timed badly.
Would you say it's a situation in which each party has only looked after their own interests?
I have absolutely no problem with Lopetegui's decision [to join Real Madrid]. It's a great opportunity for him. Of course it is. So that's fine. But on this occasion it affects the [Spanish Football] Federation and the squad, and I think Rubiales did the right thing. The group needs to be 100% focused on winning the World Cup, and the national coach can't also be the coach of Real Madrid.
Would we have reached this outcome if he'd been appointed by another club, say for example Real Betis?
If he had gone to another club, it would be exactly the same. The coach's thoughts are already turning to another chapter in his career. I'm not saying that the Lopetegui thing is badly timed just because it's Real Madrid. I'm obviously a Barcelona fan and everyone knows it, but if he'd gone to Barça I'd say the same.
What portion of the blame do Real Madrid have to accept? It's Real who make the first call to Lopetegui.
Yes, but at the end of the day it's a decision that comes down to the individual. If I sign a contract, I'm the one signing it. At the end of the day, it's me who decides. The responsibility is with Lopetegui. He's the national coach. Of course Real Madrid are part of this process and have not helped to keep the Spain camp in rude health, but Lopetegui is the one with the responsibility. The Federation should be above the clubs, so I think Rubiales has acted very positively.
What do you expect of Fernando Hierro? He's someone you know well.
Hierro is a guy who knows the Federation inside out and has the experience to keep things moving forward, and the players themselves have a lot of experience. They've seen it all in their careers. The likes of [Sergio] Ramos, [Sergio] Busquets, [Andrés] Iniesta, [David] Silva, and the younger ones too, play their football at top clubs and will be able to deal with this siutation.
The team had been doing well heading into the tournament...
I think he's got it wrong now, but Lopetegui did really well [as Spain coach]. Spain didn't lose under him. The style of play that he instilled was fantastic, and you can only congratulate him on the job he did. So now we have to approach the World Cup with optimism.
Can you see Spain winning the World Cup?
Sometimes, adverse circumstances can boost the togetherness in the group. You have to be positive. Under Luis Aragónes, for example, we ended up as European champions despite an atmosphere surrounding the national team that wasn't favourable. So maybe the atmosphere isn't favourable right now, but it could bring the group closer together. At the end of the day, it's down to the players in the squad to do it out on the pitch, and the team are already clear on how they want to play.
Which countries do you see as the favourites?
I think that Brazil are a step above the rest. After that, there are others that are going to be in the shake-up: Germany, France, Argentina with [Lionel] Messi, Portugal with Cristiano [Ronaldo], Spain will be contenders... Then there are dark horses like Croatia or Belgium, plus another one or two. It looks like a very tight World Cup to me; anything can happen. Anyone can make life difficult for you. Just look what happened the other day between Spain and Tunisia.