There he was once again in space in the middle of the field. Elston Howard Jersey . He took one quick look to the left, before firmly fixing his wide eyes on to his team-mate with the ball. He didnt just want the ball, he demanded it and his team-mates knew it too. A look from him and they knew they should give him the ball. The ball rolled towards him incredibly slowly in his mind, so slowly he was able to take a quick look to his right before he felt the ball grace against his right boot. Immediately he took a touch forward, keeping his head up to see the run, although he already knew it was coming, and as he dribbled deep into the opponents territory he waited until the perfect moment to supply the pass through the defenders and on to the rushing teammate. The pace of the pass was so precise, Jordi Alba only had to touch it once to settle himself before slotting home. 2-0 Spain. In the 41st minute that night in Kiev, Xavi Hernandez became the first player ever to assist in two different European Championship finals, but the pass that cemented that stat meant so much more than achieving a football first through an assist statistic. Xavi knew what the world knew at that moment. Spain, who hadnt given up a single goal in any of their previous nine knockout games at the Euros or World Cup, certainly were not going to concede twice to Italy that night. Xavis magnificent pass had secured their victory and put them amongst the greatest national teams to ever play the game. Spain would go on to win 4-0 with Xavi again providing a key assist for the third goal. Andres Iniesta, who is far more than a teammate to Xavi, rightly was handed man of the match to cap a marvellous tournament, but in terms of raising his game for the big occasion no one did it better than Xavi that night. Xavi and Spain had spent most of the tournament in third gear but when the midfield maestro stepped it up, so did the team. It has been the story of Xavis career. The previous summer in the Champions League final at Wembley, a theatre he loved because of how much be embraced the sports history, Xavi had the keys to unlock the opposition. Once again he had found space, this time between the lines, but as he attacked Manchester United had his options covered. Still Xavi waited, ever the ball treasurer, the Spaniard let Lionel Messi make a run to drag Patrice Evra central, exposing a bit of space for Pedro to run into. Xavi saw the space first and placed another perfect ball that allowed the eventual goalscorer to take one simple touch before firing home. Another assist and another completely masterful performance on the games biggest stage. In the summer of 2010, Xavi made more passes and more accurate passes than any player at the World Cup (599/669), yet his most crucial one comes from a corner against Germany in the semi final, one that landed on the head of Carles Puyol, to help power Spain into their first ever World Cup final. A few days later, Xavi lifted the World Cup after his footballing soul mate, Iniesta, scored the games only goal. After that win in South Africa, UEFA President Michel Platini did not ask for Iniestas winning shirt. He asked, and received, the shirt of Xavi. The same Xavi who in the summer of 2009, again in the Champions League final, placed a magnificent ball on to the head of Lionel Messi who nodded it past Edwin van der Sar. Messi did not win man of the match that day, Xavi did. The same Xavi, a summer earlier, that got it all started for Spain, who changed their identity from perennial underachievers to winners, when he placed a wonderful ball through to Fernando Torres to score the games only goal. Xavi has been around long enough to know what it was like when both his teams struggled, yet he, more than any other player, helped them both reach the top of the sports mountain. When the footballing genius eventually calls it a career his legacy will be reflected by the incredible impact and importance he had for his teams in big games. Xavi is simply not just a player who won everything there is to win with club and country. He is a player that dictated their identity; an identity and style that helped both Barcelona and Spain dominate. Two days prior to his Kiev display, the artist stood in front of the worlds media and had to answer a question on whether that style was boring. "If we are boring but we are winning, that is fantastic for us. We will keep playing our game, we are not bored." How could he be? The victory in Kiev was Xavis 17th winners medal in four years. In between the Euro 2008 and 2012 victories, he and Iniesta had won a World Cup, two Champions League titles, three Spanish league crowns, three Spanish Super Cups, two Spanish Cups, two European Super Cups and two World Club Cups. Since he has won another league title and a Spanish Super Cup all done in a style far from boring. "We go out from the first moment looking for the ball and looking to put pressure on the opposition. If you are not going to pass the ball then why play the game. That is not football in my opinion," Xavi explaind. ‘For another coach — someone like (Javier) Clemente or (Fabio) Capello — they may have another idea of football but it is good that the Barcelona idea works. What were Holland looking for in the World Cup final? A Robben counter-attack? Penalties? We won a lot of games 1-0 but it was the opposition that were boring, not us." Xavi turned 34 last month and played in his 700th game for Barcelona. He has played more games in the five-and-a-half seasons than anyone yet there are very few signs of weariness. "I dont want to miss any games, but I see the need to dose my efforts a bit more," he said recently. "Maybe in Spain people get carried away when a player reaches 30, but this is the best I have felt in my career. More mature, physically better. It is because I have learned things." Xavis football brain will carry him into his senior years and well beyond his playing days, likely into a job as Barcelona coach one day, but while he has his legs we still have opportunities to watch him play. It is these opportunities, as football lovers, that we must grab. We are the guardians of future history and when we are asked in years to come what was Xavi like? it will be down to us to explain to the next generation what a magnificent, complete player he was. Unfortunately, in Canada we are robbed of seeing him play every week on domestic television but next week the Champions League presents us all with another opportunity to watch him. There, of course, is one other window of opportunity that could burst open for North American fans. "Rumours about moving to Qatar or New York this year? My wish is to stay here until the end of my contract. Im not moving," said Xavi recently. That would take him to the summer of 2016, by which point he will be 36. Xavi is smart enough to know that will likely be too old to be a major player in such a technical style that both his club and country play. However, a move to MLS when he is 36 would give him a great opportunity to compete for a couple more winners medals while playing into his late thirties. Xavis path to the United States could be boosted by what his friend and mentor, Pep Guardiola, decided to do when he took a sabbatical from coaching last season and came to New York. Xavi, who was kept out of the side by Guardiola when he was young and almost moved because he couldnt get in ahead of him, went on to be a very different player (occupied further forward to make those key assists) thanks to Frank Rijkaards progressive thinking but has always had a special bond with his former teammate and coach. Ferran Soriano and Txiki Begiristains primary job is to succeed with Manchester City, but the former Barcelona executives will play a crucial role in the success of new MLS team, New York City FC, as 80% of that club is owned by the Premier League club. Xavi has every right to stay focused on the tasks at hand in his homeland right now. After all, in the next four months, he has a Champions League and a Spanish Cup to try and regain and a La Liga and World Cup to try to defend but when he is 36 he will have a decision to make and it is difficult to imagine him choosing retirement. He would be magnificent in Major League Soccer. Of all the current players in the game today, not named Ronaldo or Messi, he would be the one I would want to watch play in North America. A recent twitter poll of this question saw just 2 of 100 answer Xavi (with Zlatan Ibrahimovic being the overwhelming popular answer) but then again the Spanish maestro is used to being in the shadows of the true superstars. Less than 18 months ago I went to Barcelona to watch them play, excited to see Messi and my favourite, Iniesta, play. Not for the first time, Xavi crashed the party putting on a passing clinic in midfield. Enjoy him while he is still playing at a high level, folks. Spain have created many wonderful footballers, but on January 25th, 1980, Xavi Hernandez i Creus, the greatest of them all, was born. He grew to be a footballing giant at 5ft 7 inches, who played a major role in the way the game was played. One can only hope the last chapter of this fabulous footballing life can one day be written in North America. Just think of the ways the league and its players could benefit. Andy Pettitte Yankees Jersey . -- For one night, Nick Calathes provided a big reason to believe the Memphis Grizzlies might be able to withstand the loss of Mike Conley on a short-term basis. Johnny Damon Jersey . The Los Angeles Clippers showed them just how ugly that life could be. Jared Dudley scored a season-high 21 points, Chris Paul added 16 points and 17 assists, and the Clippers jumped all over the Bulls in Roses absence for a 121-82 victory Sunday.St. Louis, MO (SportsNetwork.com) - Tre Mason ran for two touchdowns and caught one more as the St. Louis Rams trounced the visiting Oakland Raiders 52-0 on Sunday. Shaun Hill completed 13-of-22 passes for 183 yards and threw two touchdowns during a dominant first half that saw the Rams (5-7) pile up 38 points. St. Louis scored toucchdowns on its first five possessions and added a field goal on its sixth. Joe Torre Jersey. Rookie Derek Carr finished 24-of-39 for 173 yards and threw interceptions on consecutive drives in the second quarter for Oakland (1-11), which snapped a 16-game losing streak with last Thursdays 24-20 home victory over Kansas City. ' ' '
CHARLOTTE, N. Miami Marlins Gear .C. -- Carl Edwards said NASCAR is taking the wrong approach in its effort to draw more fans to the race track. If NASCAR really wants to create better competition and higher interest in the sport, Edwards said it needs to focus on changing the setup of the cars and not the championship format. NASCAR will announce its Chase for the Sprint Cup championship format on Thursday. It is expected to be to a 16-driver field whittled down through eliminations to four drivers and a winner-take-all season finale; it would be the fourth significant change to either the points or championship format since the Chase debuted in 2004. Edwards said drivers are already doing everything they can to win and the proposed changes that NASCAR chairman Brian France laid out two weeks ago wont change that. "I dont think you can take the top 15 guys in this sport and make them race any harder for wins. I dont think you can," Edwards said Tuesday. Its a sentiment shared by 2012 champion Brad Keselowski, who initially showed public support of the new format but is now reserving judgment until he sees exactly what NASCAR wants to do. France has been adamant he wants drivers to race at 100 per cent at all times and to value winning, and he preached most of last season that the frantic, door-banging battle to the checkered flag at California between Denny Hamlin and Joey Logano is the kind of racing he wants to see. "From a drivers perspective, theres nothing left," Keselowski said Wednesday. "Theres no set of rules to make me race harder than I do." Keselowski passed on a chance to move Kyle Busch out of the lead at Watkins Glen last August in what could have been a last-ditch effort to win the race. That victory would have likely ensured Keselowski a spot in the Chase; instead, he failed to qualify and was unable to defend his championship. Keselowski also doesnt think any changes will hurt six-time champion Jimmie Johnson. "No matter what format you put out there, hes the favourite," Keselowski said. "Until thats not the case, I dont see how theres any format that could be wrote, unless its the slowest guy wins, and I dont think theyre going to do that." Edwards said taking away the downforce on cars and making the tires softer is a good place to start. He said it would go a long way toward increasing competitive racing at the front of the pack. "No matter what format we race under I cant just try harder and go up and race with the guy or pass him," Edwards said. "I think the thing we have to focus on as a sport is making sure the cars can race one another. ... Right now, if Im staring at the guy in the front window it doesnt matter if (Im racing) for a billion dollars and 10 championships -- if I cant catch him, I cant catch him." Its not necessarily that Edwards is against the format. But he said if Frances proposals -- with the emphasis on winning races to get into the Chase for the Championship -- come to fruition, it will change the way drivers approach the season. "Things will get really, really interesting around Richmond. That will be insane," Edwards said. Dale Earnhardt Jr. said he wasnt excited about the proposed changes at first, but has begun to warm to the idea. "Lets change it all. Im all for it," Earnhardt said. "A lot of times we change things for the fans, and I think the drivers are going to enjoy some of this stuff as much as the fans are." Team owner Richard Petty said proposed changes are a "PR deal" by NASCAR designed to drum up more interest in the sport. He still thinks the best drivers will come out on top regardless of the format. "They just want to shake things up," Petty said. NASCAR is essentially borrowing a page from other major sports such as the NFL, NBA and Major League Baseball where teams -- or in this case, drivers -- are eliminated from playoff contention while the season climaxes with one championship event at the end of the year. Earnhardt Jr. called it a "bold, aggressive" move by NASCAR. "When you look at other forms of sport, theres an elimination factor in the playoffs that we dont have," Earnhardt said. "We, as drivers, dont feel the intensity of an elimination factor being over our shoulders every race. I feel like weve had it easy in that regard where we just tally up points. Coming down to Homestead with four guys (racing for the championship), thats crazy -- but its exciting." However, driver Ryan Newman doesnt necessarily agree with the elimination-style system. "I dont think we can take everything the NFL or NBA is doing and say, We need to do it like this because theyre doing it like that and its working," Newman said. "This is still stock car racing. This is NASCAR. A certain per cent of change is good, but we do not need to copy the playoff system." Adam Conley Jersey . -- Michael Bennett gambled last off-season that playing on a one-year deal in Seattle would pay off in the future with the long-term contract he always wanted. Brian Anderson Jersey . 1-9 on TSN. With more than 65 hours of exclusive live coverage, TSN delivers all the action beginning with Draw 1 on Saturday, Feb. 1 at 2 p.EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. - Top choice Odell Beckham Jr., and three other draft picks have signed with the New York Giants on Monday. That leaves only one unsigned player for the Giants from this months selections, defensive tackle Jay Bromley, taken in the third round. In addition to Beckham, a wide receiver drafted 12th overall, centre Weston Richburg (second round), linebacker Devon Kennard (fifth round) and cornerback Bennett Jackson (sixth round) signed with the team Monday. Beckham joins another LSU receiver, Rueben Randle, in New Yorks passing attack, which lost veteran Hakeem Nicks in free agency. Beckham set an LSU record with 2,315 all-purpose yards in 22013, completing his career with 15 touchdowns and 4,118 all-purpose yards, which ranks No. Jordan Holloway Jersey . 5 in school history. "He has great speed. Hes polished. He has great hands and played at the top level." Giants coach Tom Coughlin said when the team drafted Beckham. "Hes someone we could count on putting the ball in the end zone and we can also feature him in the kicking game as well." Richburg was a four-year starter at Colorado State who made 50 consecutive starts, a school record. He was first-team All-Mountain West in 2013. On Friday, the Giants signed fourth-round running back Andre Williams and fifth-round safety Nat Berhe. ' ' '