By Martin Rogers
DURBAN, South Africa – Perhaps it’s just as well that Lionel Messi has gone back to Argentina already. That way he doesn’t have to watch his status as the world’s best player get ripped away by one of his closest friends.

Non-soccer fans probably haven’t heard of Xavi Hernandez. The Spain midfielder doesn’t lead a celebrity lifestyle or follow the underwear-modeling path of soccer superstars Cristiano Ronaldo or David Beckham.

And yet, the man simply known as Xavi is the finest soccer player on the planet right now and the most accomplished performer at this World Cup. Ahead of Messi. Ahead of Ronaldo. Even ahead of his Spain teammate David Villa, who has scored five goals to Xavi’s none in South Africa.

Xavi and Messi are club teammates at Barcelona in the Spanish league, and it’s the little Argentinean who is routinely afforded the lion’s share of attention. Messi’s tricks, flicks and lightning feet grasp the focus of fans and opposition alike.

With Messi, and especially Ronaldo, the brilliance is there. It’s right in your face, and you can’t miss it, not with the jukes and turns and permanent reminders of their soccer artistry.

With Xavi, you have to look more closely.

He enjoys a bit of fleet-footed trickery too, but only when it serves a purpose. Much of what he does is simple. All of it is ruthlessly effective and beautiful in its own way.

Like with the corner kick from the left that produced the only goal of a cagey semifinal. Some players hit and hope or aim for an area. Xavi drops it in on a dime. Or, on this occasion, the advancing head of Carles Puyol.