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Nov 26, 2012

Xavi hails Barca youth academy

Barcelona continued their record-breaking start to the new season on Sunday night with Lionel Messi scoring twice more as the Catalans stretched their Primera Division lead to 11 points with a 4-0 win at Levante achieved while playing most of the game with 11 home-grown players.

• Blog: La Masia XI shoots Barca clear

From the 13th minute, when Martin Montoya replaced the injured Dani Alves, until the 75th, when the returning Adriano Correia entered for Jordi Alba, all of Barca's players, and coach Tito Vilanova, were alumni of the club's legendary youth academy.

Barcelona-born playmaker Xavi Hernandez said that years of work had gone into the achievement.

"It is extraordinary, especially for those of us that learned to play football at La Masia," Xavi said. "We are the proof of the good work that is being done. (Former coach Louis) Van Gaal said that his dream was to field 11 homegrown players, and that dream has become a reality. I have lived through times when it was just me and Carles Puyol in the first team."

While this was not the first time Barca had fielded a fully home-grown side in recent seasons, Sunday's game did coincide with much anticipated regional elections in Catalonia, where the results have been seen as a setback for pro-independence leader Artur Mas.

While not speaking directly about the election or any potential consequences of political change for Catalonia's most internationally recognised institution, blaugrana sporting director Andoni Zubizarreta noted on Spanish TV after the game that Barca remained a club which welcomed players from all backgrounds.

"It is something we have been talking about for a while now, but it is not an objective in itself," the Basque former Barca goalkeeper told Canal Plus. "This is a club composed from the greatness of homegrown players, but also of players from outside who come in and show the same pride in the jersey. With this mix it is a great club."

The game was scoreless at the break, but Barca moved up a gear after the break and quickly took control. Messi's two goals were characteristically well-taken, but the night's stand-out player was Andres Iniesta, who fired in his side's third from the edge of the area and played the final pass for their other three in his 422nd competitive match for the club, lifting him above 1990s midfielder Guillermo Amor in the all-time games played rankings.

The La Mancha-born midfielder was not getting carried away with his own performance, or the lead over Madrid, pointing to Atletico Madrid (still just three points behind Barca) as another realistic title challenger and saying all teams suffered dips during a season.

"This is the path to follow, we have to keep on winning points and we have to continue growing as a team," Iniesta said. "The games will decide how things play out. Atletico are our main pursuer at the moment. We have to be aware that we cannot maintain this level throughout the whole season. We will go through some tough times, we have to enjoy the moment."

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