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Soccer-Barca's Thiago coping well with pressure of expectation

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MADRID, Jan 17 (Reuters) - Being groomed to take over from Xavi when the Barcelona and Spain playmaker retires in a few years is a hefty burden for any young player but Thiago Alcantara appears to have both the skill and the temperament to deal with the pressure.

The son of former Brazil midfielder Mazinho, part of their 1994 World Cup-winning side, the 21-year-old Thiago has already appeared for the senior Spain team and is gradually being handed more responsibility at club level by Barca coach Tito Vilanova.

Blessed with superb close control and distribution skills as well as an impressive burst of pace, he is seen as a cross between Xavi and their Barca and Spain team mate Andres Iniesta, with something of the Cesc Fabregas thrown in for good measure.

Despite his undoubted promise, he still has some way to go before he is fully ready to assume the responsibilities of Xavi, considered one of the finest midfield playmakers of his, or any, generation.

Xavi turns 33 this month and has a contract until 2016 but has suffered from niggling injuries in recent seasons and is likely to limit increasingly his appearances per season as time goes by.

One weakness Thiago needs to iron out is an occasional tendency to dither on the ball and he was partly to blame for Malaga's opening goal in Wednesday's 2-2 King's Cup quarter-final first leg draw at the Nou Camp.

However, he demonstrated his maturity in frankly discussing the error at a post-training news conference on Thursday and said he would not let it check his progress.

"We have a very integrated style and we trust in it but sometimes a mistake can happen in a matter of seconds and it was my turn," he said.

"The page has to be turned. That little error is annoying but my progress and my desire to play are the same.

"The confidence in me is growing every day and the development is positive."

Born in Bari, Italy, Thiago joined Barca's youth ranks in 2005 at the age of 14 and made his first-team debut in May 2009 in a La Liga match at Real Mallorca.

He has a contract with Barca until at least 2015, according to the club's website (www.fcbarcelona.es).

He was a key member of the Spain Under-21 team that won the European Championship in 2011 and scored in the final against Switzerland and has been called up several times to the senior squad, making his debut in August 2011 against Italy.

His younger brother, 19-year-old midfielder Rafinha, plays for Barcelona's B team and Brazil's Under-20 side and is also seen as an exciting prospect. (Reporting by Iain Rogers, editing by Toby Davis)

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