MADRID (AP) — Footballers Iker Casillas and Xavi Hernandez have received the annual sports prize from Spain's Prince of Asturias Foundation.
Casillas, of Real Madrid, and Xavi, with bitter rival Barcelona, have combined for 253 international appearances in helping Spain to become world football's dominant team with a World Cup triumph sandwiched between consecutive European Championships.
The pair, whose candidacy was put forward by FIFA President Sepp Blatter, edged the International Paralympic Committee to win an annual prize of €50,000 ($65,000) and a sculpture specially created by Joan Miro.
"They have forged and maintained a solid friendship since they won the Under-20s World Cup in 1999 with the Spanish team, which has contributed to resolving the differences between players of different clubs, promoting fair play and team philosophy as the basis for sporting success," said the jury, chaired by tennis great Arancha Sanchez-Vicario.
Blatter said they "are an example to follow, representing Spanish unity above the differences of the Real Madrid-Barcelona rivalry."
Casillas and Xavi have been part of Spanish club football's greatest rivalry, which has often spilled into acrimony as matches end in brawls with rival coaches being eye-poked even. But the pair has helped repair the recent frost between the rival clubs' players.
"Our friendship comes above all else," Xavi said. "It's a friendship that has united us for years."
Casillas and Xavi were also 2010 winners of the prize when Spain was honored after its first World Cup triumph in South Africa. They are the latest Spain players to be honored with prizes after teammate Andres Iniesta was named Best Player in Europe on Friday following his achievement of best player of the Euro 2012 tournament.
"Spanish football is at its best, the level of football being played in this country is spectacular," Spain captain Casillas said. "It's a reflection of the national team and the players that make it up."
Usain Bolt and Michael Phelps had been mentioned as possible candidates following their record-breaking performances at the London Olympics, but were not finalists since candidacies needed to be submitted by March.
The sports award is one of eight Asturias prizes granted each year in categories including arts, literature, communications and scientific research. The prizes are among Spain's most prestigious and are presented by Crown Prince Felipe each autumn in the northern city of Oviedo, capital of the Asturias region.
Haile Gebrselassie, Yelena Isinbayeva, Rafael Nadal and Michael Schumacher are recent winners of a prize awarded since 1981, when Sebastian Coe won the inaugural award.