Across what would have been Euro 2020, we are running a series on the players who defined each of the European Championships from 1972-2016 – and beyond that, left their imprint on modern football. After Xavi, it’s the turn of Andres Iniesta…
Doubling down on landmark achievements is one way to achieve greatness. If you treble down, then you’re assured of being truly legendary. After winning the European Championship in Austria and Switzerland in 2008, Spain followed it up by winning their first ever World Cup in South Africa two years later. They became only the third team to hold the world and European titles at the same time after West Germany (1972 and 1974) and France (1998 and 2000). It was a remarkable run of form, and they weren’t done.
At the 2012 European Championship in Poland and Ukraine, Spain secured an unprecedented third major title in a row. It made for an impregnable case as the greatest international team of all time. Their midfielder Andrés Iniesta, who had been voted into the UEFA Team of the Tournament in 2008, would win the Player of the Tournament vote in 2012. It would be confirmation of his status as one of the greatest big game players in the history of world football.
Euro Icons – 2008: Xavi and the Barca-fication of Spain
Like Spain, Iniesta was merely adding more layers to his aura in 2012. Two years earlier in the 2010 World Cup Final in Johannesburg he was given the Man of the Match award, after drilling home the solitary winning goal against the Netherlands with four minutes remaining in extra-time. It is the most iconic goal in the history of Spanish football, and Iniesta’s joy thereafter was a release that went far beyond securing Spain’s first world title.
Andres Iniesta of Spain celebrates scoring the winning goal during the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa Final match between Netherlands and Spain at Soccer City Stadium on July 11, 2010 in Johannesburg, South Africa
Image credit: Getty Images
As he ran away in celebration Iniesta stripped off his shirt, to reveal a vest bearing the handwritten message: “Dani Jarque siempre con nosotros” (“Dani Jarque, always with us”). It was a touching tribute to Iniesta’s close friend at Espanyol, who had died of a heart attack on the pitch just a year earlier. Iniesta had also been plagued by a persistent thigh injury for over a year before the tournament. It had debilitated his confidence to the point that Emili Ricart, a physio at Barcelona, prepared a DVD for Iniesta to take to the World Cup as motivation. On it were stories of great Spanish sporting stars who had overcome adversity to win at the highest level. He watched it enough times during the tournament to draw sufficient inspiration to join them.
‘He’s going to retire us all’
Iniesta was always a scorer of significant goals rather than the scorer of a significant number of goals. When he bagged the winner in a global youth tournament in the Camp Nou as a 15-year old in 1999, it…