Xavi Hernandez: Spain can win Euro 2016 for 3rd straight Euro title

DOHA, Qatar -- Xavi Hernandez has backed Spain to win an unprecedented third straight European championship in France next year.

In an exclusive interview, Xavi told ESPN FC that the current squad can emulate the successful sides of 2008 and 2012, of which he was an integral part.

"It will be difficult to retain the European championship, but we have a very good generation of footballers," Xavi said. "There are veterans: Sergio Ramos, [Andres] Iniesta, [David] Silva, [Cesc] Fabregas, [Gerard] Pique, [Iker] Casillas, Juanfran. [Sergio] Busquets also, he's starting to become a veteran, maybe Pedro, [Juan] Mata.

"Then we have the new generation: Jordi Alba, Isco, Thiago [Alcantara], [Alvaro] Morata, Diego Costa, [Paco] Alcacer. We have great players.

Why can't these players win the tournament in France next year and win it for the third successive time? The level of players is Spain is exceptionally high, especially in the midfield where there are so many top talents to choose from, (including) Javi Martinez, Ander Herrera."

Xavi retired from international football after the 2014 World Cup, a tournament in which then-holders Spain disappointed and went out at the group stage.

The 35-year-old, who left Barcelona in the summer and now plays for Al Sadd in Qatar, believes Vicente del Bosque's current squad remains a force to be reckoned with.

"Spain can put an XI out which can beat anybody. There are six or seven players there who are used to these competitions, who've been winners. It's easy to transition between teams in Spain because the level of the footballers is so high."

Xavi also defended his former Barcelona and Spain Gerard Pique, who has been criticised by some national team fans in recent months. In June, Pique was booed during a friendly against Costa Rica and was also jeered in a win against Slovakia two months later.

Pique is a supporter of Catalan independence and also riled Real Madrid fans with comments he made about Cristiano Ronaldo's birthday party helping to spur Barcelona to last season's Treble triumph.

"I'm sorry it's like this," Xavi said. "[Pique] made a joke, but it's difficult for the fans of Real Madrid to pardon this. The rivalry between Barca and Madrid is far more than football, though. There's politics, history. They won't forgive Gerard but they should have respect for him."

Spain continue preparation for Euro 2016 on Friday with a home friendly against England in Alicante and then visit Belgium four days later.