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Thursday, 4 April, 2002, 14:26 GMT 15:26 UK
Xavier's recipe for success
Portugal defender Abel Xavier
Uefa banned Xavier for six months after Euro 2000
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Despite being a former team-mate of a certain Paul Gascoigne, Portugal right-back Abel Xavier takes his "refuelling" very seriously.

Indeed, it is dedication to diet which he believes will give him an edge at the World Cup.

"There is nothing more important for an athlete than nourishment," the Liverpool defender told BBC Sport Online.

Open Quote
It's only natural that the game is in my veins - I'm an African born into a family of footballers
Close Quote
Abel Xavier

"Our bodies are like cars and we must know the exact effects of how we feed them.

"I want mine to be perfect and it won't be if I don't give it the best oil and gasoline. It's my most important work tool and I take religous care of it."

The 29-year-old's fitness obsession does not end there. He has hired a personal instructor - Aurelien Henry, the uncle of Arsenal and France striker Thierry Henry - to ensure his body remains a temple.

"Aurelien's like family," he explained. "A nutritionist, a physiotherapist and a coach, he often comes to England to evaluate my condition and to give precious advice.

"Under his guidance, I do special tailor-made flexibility and muscular exercises.

"In a professional squad of 24 players, you need to develop an individual training programme with a personal coach as the team doctor can't take care of everybody."

Abel Xavier argues with officials after defeat to France in the Euro 2000 semi-final
Xavier was vociferous in his protests at Euro 2000

But hard work will only get you so far, the rest is genetic, according to Abel-bodied Xavier.

"The rhythm is within me," he told BBC Sport Online. "It's only natural that the game is in my veins. I'm an African born into a family of footballers.

"I come from Mozambique and both my grandfather and my father played the game."

Since his move to Liverpool from Everton, where he played alongside Gazza, Xavier is proud to have won over the Anfield fans.

The jokes about him looking like a pint of Guinness, caused by his bleached-blond hairdo, have even abated.

But, while he is enjoying himself with the title-chasing Reds and looking forward to Japan and Korea, he admits his experiences after Euro 2000 still leave a bitter taste.

Open Quote
For some of us the World Cup is the last carriage on the train of our careers, a perfect opportunity to write our names in the history of Portuguese football
Close Quote
Abel Xavier

Indeed, no-one will ever convince Xavier that the six-month international suspension he received after the tournament was justified.

Xavier picked up the ban after his extravagant protests when he conceded a penalty for handball in the decisive moment of the semi-final against France.

And the memory drives him on.

A member of the Luis Figo, Rui Costa, Joao Pinto golden generation that lifted the Under-20 World Championship in Lisbon in 1991, Xavier believes the World Cup is a chance to avenge Euro 2000 - maybe the last chance.

"Portugal are privileged to have the team they have - and there are plenty of experienced teams who win titles," he said.

"We have been working superbly since Euro 2000. We have quality international experience with Portugal as well as our clubs and can achieve a historical result."

Good reason, then, to want to be in pristine condition.

"For some of us, the World Cup is the last carriage on the train of our careers, a perfect opportunity to write our names in the history of Portuguese football."

If only Gazza had espoused the same attitude.

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