It was the end of an era for Spain following their World Cup exit. Andres Iniesta, the hero of the 2010 World Cup final, announced his retirement from international football. The Spanish midfielder scored the winning goal for his team in South Africa.
The 34-year-old came on as a substitute when Spain lost 4-3 on penalties to hosts, Russia, in the last 16 on Sunday.
“It is a reality that is my last match with the national team,” he said.
Iniesta made his debut in 2006 and helped Spain win the European Championship in 2008 and 2012. The former Barcelona player has had a glittering 12 year international career.
“Sometimes the endings are not as one dreams,” he added. “It is the saddest day of my career.”
Iniesta ended a glittering 22 year career at Barca in May when he moved to Japanese top-flight side Vissel Kobe.
He has won 32 trophies at Barcelona and made 674 senior appearances, having joined the youth set-up aged 12.
Spain boss Fernando Hierro dubbed Iniesta as “one of the greatest players in our history”.
“The way he played on the pitch when he substituted on was like he was playing in his first cap and I want to thank him whole-heartedly,” he said.
Even Chelsea midfielder Cesc Fabregas, who played with Iniesta at Barcelona and Spain, added: “Andres doesn’t deserve to go out like this.”
Iniesta’s announcement came on the back of Spain’s biggest shock of the 2018 World Cup so far.
After extra-time ended with the score locked at 1-1, Russia goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev denied Koke and then Iago Aspas.
“Like all Spaniards, we had high hopes and dreams and we are sad that we couldn’t do it for the millions of people who were following the game back home,” said Hierro.
“There is a lot of pain in the delegation, the players, the coaching staff, the workers.
“We had great hopes for this World Cup and it wasn’t to be. But I have no complaints against anybody.”