Xavi ends Barca career in style with European triumph

BERLIN (Reuters) - Xavi brought his glittering Barcelona career to a fitting and emotional end when he hoisted aloft the European Cup following a 3-1 victory over Juventus in the Champions League final on Saturday.

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Considered one of the finest midfielders of all time, Xavi announced last month he was leaving after more than two decades with the club he joined at the age of 11 during which he has won 25 trophies including four Champions Leagues and eight La Liga titles.

He was welcomed with a huge roar by the Barca fans thronging one end of Berlin’s Olympic Stadium when he replaced Andres Iniesta in the 78th minute of his 767th and final outing for Barca before he joins Qatari club Al Sadd.

Pulling on the captain’s armband for the last time, the 35-year-old set a record of 151 appearances in Europe’s elite club competition, one more than Real Madrid goalkeeper and close friend Iker Casillas.

“Not even in the best possible dream could I be so happy,” Xavi told Spanish television. “There are no words, I can’t ask for any more, to leave this way is perfect.

“There is already a feeling of nostalgia. Knowing that you won’t play for this team again is tough.”

Xavi, who is planning to go into coaching when he finally hangs up his boots, was also the tireless dynamo at the heart of a magnificent run for Spain.

He helped end a 44-year trophy drought at Euro 2008 and went on to lead La Roja to their first World Cup success in 2010 and another continental crown two years later.

Xavi was close to leaving Barca when they failed to win a major trophy last season and he decided to retire from internationals following Spain’s first-round exit at the 2014 World Cup.

Barca coach Luis Enrique, a former team mate, persuaded him to stay on and he has made a vital contribution as the club became the first to win La Liga, the King’s Cup and Champions League in the same season on two occasions.

Along with club mates Iniesta, Lionel Messi and Gerard Pique, Xavi has equalled former Netherlands midfielder Clarence Seedorf’s record of four Champions League triumphs.

Editing by Tony Jimenez