Iniesta turns 38: Five top moments from the little magician
Andrés Iniesta will forever be remembered as one of the best players of his generation. Let's take a look a five top moments during his career
Andres Iniesta turns 38 years old today. Throught his career, the Spanish midfielder gifted every football fan with moments of absolute wizardry. Here are our five favourites:
5. Man of the Match in the 2014/15 Champions League final
Iniesta would have been a great player for any club in the world. However, at Barcelona, a club that values technical ability and tactical intelligence like few others, he was allowed to reach a level that only a handful of players ever touched in the history of the sport.
A key member of one of the best teams in history, his skill was put to good use in the 2014/15 Champions League final, where Iniesta put on a terrific performance, setting up the opener for Ivan Rakitic and ruling supreme in midfield, even without his usual partner Xavi.
Barça would win their second treble in six years, and Iniesta became the first and only player to be Man of the Match in the final of the World Cup, the UEFA European Championships and the Champions League.
4. Standing ovation at the Santiago Bernabeu
Barça players aren't usually well liked at the Estadio Santiago Bernabeu. Hosts Real Madrid share not only a historic rivalry with the Blaugranas, but also a cultural one. And yet, sometimes a football display is so brilliant that fans can forget their differences and join in admiration of a player, regardless of the shirt they're wearing.
Such was the case on November 21st, 2015. Barça beat Los Merengues 4-0, but at the end there were no whistles or insults, just clapping. Iniesta was imperious in midfield, and even scored the third goal as Rafa Benitez's Real Madrid stood powerless.
In receiving the admiration of the Santiago Bernabeu crowd he joined other Barça favourites like Ronaldinho and Maradona, not exactly bad company to be with.
3. Debut as a teenager
The number of players who fulfil their childhood dream and go on to play football professionally is miniscule. If you zoom into into those who manage to do it at the highest echelons of the sport, that's even less.
So when on October 19th, 2002 Dutch manager Louis Van Gaal sent out an 18 year old Iniesta to the pitch as one of the starters at the Jan-Breydel-Stadion in front of 18,000 people to face Club Brugge in the Champions League, the young Spaniard fulfilled two dreams at one go.
Little did he or his coach know that would be the first of over 600 appearances for the Catalan club.
2. The Iniestazo at Stamford Bridge
The myth of Iniesta and the modern Barcelona side started in 2009, but it was all very close to never happening. On May 6th 2009, the Blaugranas faced Chelsea on the second leg of their Champions League semifinal. The first match, at the Camp Nou had been a 0-0, so it all hung in the balance
After 93 minutes, Chelsea led 1-0 against at ten-men Barça side in what had been one of the most controvertial matches in memory. When everything seemed lost, the ball found the feet of Iniesta right outside the box. The Spanish wizard then proceeded to thunder a right-footed shot past the Petr Cech, to break the hearts of every Chelsea fan. Barcelona went through on away goals to the final, and the rest is history.
1. Scoring in the World Cup final with Spain
It one thing to score a dramatic winner for your club, but it's an entirely different thing to do it for your country and on the biggest of stages.
The 2010 World Cup final saw a clash of styles, though not in the typical way. Spain, traditionally a hard-fighting, brash side, was playing their best football ever, with Iniesta at the heart of the midfield. The Netherlands, famous passing game, were playing the disruptors. It looked like the stalemate would reach the penalty shoot-out like it had done four years earlier, when Iniesta made his mark.
In the last minutes of Extra Time, Cesc Fabregas recovered the ball at the edge of the box and played a pass on to the unmarked Iniesta, who controlled the ball and hit it mid-air with his right foot to claim Spain's first World Cup title. A truly unforgettable moment.