The first casualty of Spain’s 2018 FIFA World Cup defeat has been confirmed as Andres Iniesta announced he would be retiring from international football in the aftermath of their penalty shootout loss to hosts Russia in the pre-quarters on Sunday.
Iniesta, who left Catalan giants Barcelona for Japanese side Vissel Kobe prior to the World Cup, was seen as an integral part of La Roja’s squad despite turning 34 in May.
However, with the next World Cup set to take place in 2022, Iniesta made the hard call on his own, rather than be forced out, not entirely dissimilar to the way he departed boyhood club Barcelona at the close of the 2017-18 season.
Scorer of the winning goal in the 2010 World Cup final against Holland, considered by many as the most important goal in the history of Spanish football, Iniesta at his peak was considered as the best midfielder on the planet.
Here’s what Fernando Hierro had to say about the midfielder’s decision:
🗣 Hierro: “Mi más sincero agradecimiento y reconocimiento a @andresiniesta8, uno de los mejores jugadores de nuestra historia”
📺 STREAMING: https://t.co/bOzaKKwQtR
— Selección Española de Fútbol (@SeFutbol) July 1, 2018
When translated, the coach’s comments read: “My heartfelt thanks and appreciation to Andres Iniesta, one of the best players in our history.”
An integral part of the La Roja sides that dominated World and European football with a trio of major trophies (Euro 2008, World Cup 2010 and Euro 2012), Iniesta was the among the few who won everything there was to win for club and country both.
Phillippe Coutinho’s arrival at Barcelona in January signalled the beginning of the end of Iniesta’s career with La Blaugrana, even though the veteran insisted he still had plenty to give.
For Spain, he started all three group-stage games at the World Cup as Hierro’s men topped the pool but was controversially left on the bench against Russia.
He did come on in the second-half and while his presence did liven proceedings, Iniesta wouldn’t get the farewell he deserved as La Roja bowed out on penalties thanks to the heroics of Russian custodian Igor Akinfeev.
While he wasn’t at his silky best, he did manage to convert his spot-kick in the penalty shootout, unlike some of his teammates whose nerves failed them.
With over 130 appearances for the national side, Iniesta definitely leaves the likes of Isco and Co. with big boots to fill in the years to come.