SOCCER

Rivals Xavi and Iker garlanded for unifying national spirit

Blatter and Del Bosque praise duo who put domestic differences aside for the benefit of their country

Together we stand: Iker Casillas and Xavi Hernández helped diffuse tension between national team players
Together we stand: Iker Casillas and Xavi Hernández helped diffuse tension between national team playersAlejandro Ruesga / EL PAÍS

Iker Casillas and Xavi Hernández were on Wednesday awarded the Prince of Asturias Prize for Sport in recognition of their efforts in keeping together the Spanish national team, particularly when divisions began to appear between groups of Barcelona and Real Madrid squad members, with tensions reaching boiling point during the Catalan side’s 2011 Champions League victory.

 The two, who first played together for Spain at the 1997 FIFA U17 World Championship, where they immediately struck up a friendship, saw it as their duty to ensure that club loyalties didn’t obstruct the defense of Spain’s European Championship crown.

“It is true that there was unnecessary tension but friendship and professionalism in the end prevailed,” Hernández told Barcelona based radio station RAC1. “There were lots of other players behind us also helping to iron out the cracks that had developed,” Real Madrid and national captain Casillas added, with coach Vicente del Bosque declaring: “This recognition shows that in the end being a good person can always solve problems.”

The pair received their nomination from FIFA president Sepp Blatter, who said the duo were “an example to young people today both on, and off the field of play.”

The prizes are awarded annually by the Prince’s foundation in recognition of notable achievements in a range of categories including literature, humanities, science, peace and sports. The award ceremony is to be held on October 26 in Oviedo.

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