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EURO 2012 spotlight: How brilliant was Spain's Andrés Iniesta?

As UEFA.com celebrates outstanding midfielders from EURO history, we shine a spotlight on Spain legend Andrés Iniesta.

EURO 2012 highlights: Spotlight on Andrés Iniesta
EURO 2012 highlights: Spotlight on Andrés Iniesta

A visionary midfielder and master of the 'tika-taka' style that provided Spain with such success, Andrés Iniesta was instrumental in his country's victory at UEFA EURO 2008 and even better four years later, winning the tournament again and being named as its star.

EURO 2012

EURO 2012 final highlights: Spain 4-0 Italy
EURO 2012 final highlights: Spain 4-0 Italy

• A flawless qualifying run added to Spain's sense of invincibility as they looked to repeat their glorious UEFA EURO 2008 campaign, when Barcelona's Iniesta started every match at the heart of a side whose intelligence, speed and incisiveness in possession was matched by their defensive toughness. Since then he had added three Liga titles, two UEFA Champions Leagues and scored the winning goal in the 2010 FIFA World Cup final – for other teams at UEFA EURO 2012, stopping Iniesta and partner in crime Xavi Hernández would be key.

• Aiming to become the first team ever to successfully defend the EURO title and win three major tournaments in succession, Spain's run of 14 competitive wins came to an end in their opening match in Gdańsk, where Iniesta turned in a man-of-the-match performance in a 1-1 draw against Italy. Critics saw faint signs of fallibility in the favourites but Spain's satisfaction with the result proved warranted: the Azzurri matched their run to the final.

• Iniesta was the driving force for a team who did not concede again at the tournament, playing a direct part in two of the four goals that eliminated the Republic of Ireland and setting up Jesús Navas's late winner against Croatia. "We would love to win every game 3-0 but we too suffer at times," he cautioned.

• Spain asserted their class and reversed their 2-0 EURO 1984 final defeat by France in the quarter-finals. Iniesta's perceptive pass for the first of Xabi Alonso's two goals encapsulated how easy the Roja made fashioning danger in Donetsk, before Portugal's stubborn semi-final resistance ended courtesy of penalties – including a successful conversion by Iniesta – following a goalless draw.

EURO 2012 highlights: Spain v Portugal - the full penalty shoot-out
EURO 2012 highlights: Spain v Portugal - the full penalty shoot-out

• Outstanding in the final when they met Italy again in Kyiv, Iniesta's beautifully weighted pass to Cesc Fábregas began the move that allowed David Silva to open the scoring inside 15 minutes to set the tone for a night when the interweaving trio mesmerised the Azzurri. Jordi Alba, Fernando Torres and Juan Mata added to the scoreline as Spain became the first team to score four goals in a EURO final.

• Iniesta collected his third man of the match honour of the campaign and the player of the tournament award. "It's unique, magical; something that cannot be repeated," he concluded.

What you might not know

• Iniesta made a round trip of around 100km three times a week to play for first club Albacete, relying on his family for transport from his home village of Fuentealbilla.

• A tip-off from his father about a trip to a Catalonia theme park allowed Barcelona to meet the Iniesta family and show them the club's nearby La Masia academy, sealing the signing of the youngster at the age of 12.

• Iniesta's closeness to his clan – housekeeper mother María Luján and bricklayer father José Antonio have supported him from the start – led to what he described as a "river of tears" when he left home to join the Liga giants.

EURO 2012 highlights: Spain 2-0 France
EURO 2012 highlights: Spain 2-0 France

• Bought for him by his dad, Iniesta chose the Adidas Predator boots that he first played in because he associated them with another Barcelona legend: Ronald Koeman topped the 1993/94 UEFA Champions League scoring charts wearing a pair.

• Iniesta hit the crossbar on his debut after coming off the bench as an 18-year-old to help Barça win 1-0 at Club Brugge in a UEFA Champions League group stage match in October 2002. Coach Louis van Gaal "just told him to get out there and play", club delegate Carlos Naval recalled.

• Fittingly, Iniesta's Spain debut came at Albacete in May 2006 when he replaced Fábregas in a friendly against Russia. On as a substitute again when Spain visited England the following February, he needed just five minutes to open his international account with a long-range strike.

• After incessant injury problems dented his confidence ahead of his heroics at the 2010 World Cup, Barça physio Emil Ricart gave Iniesta a DVD showing examples of athletes who had overcome adversity. He watched the footage every night before bed in the build-up to the tournament.

• Iniesta admitted that the atmosphere "wasn't the best" within the squad ahead of UEFA EURO 2012, strongly praising the coaching staff for "resolving the tension" between the rival Real Madrid and Barcelona contingents. "We all came to realise that we were there to achieve the same goal," he explained.

What he said

EURO 2012 highlights: Croatia 0-1 Spain
EURO 2012 highlights: Croatia 0-1 Spain

"There was criticism from some quarters about our style but we were always convinced we were doing things well. Maybe we needed a game like the final to leave a good taste in our mouths. It wasn't easy at all against Italy, even if at times it may have seemed so."

"My goal has never been to be the 'ultimate' one, so to speak. I play football because it makes me happy; I love the sport and don't play to win individual awards. If at the end of the day people value my work, then great."

"I felt that I was a better player by the end of the tournament, [compared] to when we started. I believe in myself more. I left the finals feeling happier than I have ever felt; it was a magical sensation."

What they said

"He could see things before anyone else and knew exactly what to do in small spaces. I'm very glad that Iniesta had this brilliant career – not only because he is a great player, but because he is an excellent human being."
Louis van Gaal, coach at Barcelona

"I think someone once touched him with a magic wand to give him the power to score special goals at special moments."
Gerard Piqué, Barcelona and Spain team-mate

Andrés Iniesta familiarises himself with the trophy after Spain's EURO  2012 triumph
Andrés Iniesta familiarises himself with the trophy after Spain's EURO 2012 triumph©Getty Images

"He sees it all and he has that gift for dribbling that's so unique to him. And it was Andrés who opened my eyes to the importance of an inside forward or midfielder being able to dribble, too. If he dribbles, if he carries the ball and goes at people, everything flows. With time, I saw that."
Josep Guardiola, coach at Barcelona

"One of the great midfielders of this or any other generation. A truly joyous footballer who won absolutely everything with his club and country."
Gary Lineker, former England and Barcelona striker

Final tally

International: 131 appearances, 13 goals
UEFA club competition: 138 appearances, 11 goals
Domestic competition: 530 appearances, 46 goals