|Life After Football|
It’s now 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 weeks until the World Cup kicks off in Russia and as such, we’re counting down the days with a throwback every Thursday until then.
This week, we're paying homage to a true great who is about to hang up his magic-filled boots for good, Andres Iniesta.
Going into the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, the European champions, Spain, were the favourites of many. A talented squad that mixed the best of Real Madrid and Barcelona, kept ticking by the irresistible duo of Xavi and Iniesta in midfield. Tiki-taka or just damn good football, whatever you want to call it, Spain had it.
But years of almosts and nearlys planted a seed of doubt in even the most hardline Spain fan's mind. They had, after all, despite producing fine players down the years, never won football's greatest prize. In fact, the Euro 2008 triumph was their first trophy ever, putting a change to the 'always the bridesmaid never the bride' tag that was attached to La Roja.
However, as they fell to a defeat in their first game of the tournament to Switzerland in one of the shocks of the World Cup, those doubts would have been back. But through sheer class from Iniesta and the like, plus a heroic header from Carles Puyol in the semi-final against Germany, and Spain had played their way into the World Cup Final - two years on from their past triumph and on the brink of a famous double.
The Netherlands stood in their way, another celebrated nation never to have been crowned World Champions - and they wanted it just as much. Far from a classic, it was a tetchy game in Johannesburg.
Foul after foul. Yellow after yellow. The game is remembered for a brutal, high-kick to the chest of Xabi Alonso from Nigel de Jong that embodied the Dutch side's aggressive approach to stopping Spain. Holland, who themselves enjoyed an amazing tournament, capped by the goal of it from Gio van Bronckhorst. went toe-to-toe with their esteemed opponents for much of the game, occasionally stepping on their toes, too.
It was goalless all the way into extra time as the South African winter closed in, Spain ticking over and over, trying to squeeze a breakthrough. As time went on, nerves grew. Were they to fall on the greatest stage of all yet again?
No. The man of the hour this weekend, as he plays his final game for FC Barcelona, was to decide who would lift the World Cup that night. Receiving a pass from Cesc Fabregas, Andres Iniesta controls the ball just inside the Dutch box, before releasing a strike that would define his whole career.
Calmness personified, he struck it past Martin Stekelenburg, rounding off a move that he played a beautiful backheel in earlier. As the ball hits the net, there is joy and there is relief and there are scenes of pure elation as he wheels away, shirt off, displaying a message of tribute to a friend he'd lost a year earlier. Class down to a tee.
The moment, as much as any other, bar maybe a gorgeous scooped pass to Messi on a Sunday night at Camp Nou, defines Andres Iniesta as a player. A true great who will be sorely missed.