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FifaForget Seve Ballesteros putting his tee shot into a car park, somehow recovering to make a birdie and becoming the first man from continental Europe in 72 years to win a golfing major at Royal Lytham & St Annes G in 1979. Forget Miguel Indurain cycling through 500,000 rapturous spectators en route to becoming the only person to win five successive Tour de France races at the Champs-Elysees in 1995.Forget Fernando Alonso becoming the youngest world champion in Formula One history at Interlagos in 2005. Forget the Pau Gasol-propelled FIBA World Championship conquest in Saitama in 2006. Forget Fernando Torres dinking Spain into delirium in the UEFA EURO 2008 final. Forget Rafa Nadal’s earth-shaking victory over Roger Federer in the mother of Wimbledon finals seven days later.Spain’s sporting zenith indubitably came at Soccer City in 2010. Its superhero’s cape wasn’t an oversized collar under a v-neck jumper, a synthetic-fabrics yellow jersey, striking blue-and-yellow overalls, a wicking-fabric vest, a red No9 jersey or an all-white, headband-decorated ensemble. It was a curious dark-blue shirt. Andres Iniesta later admitted he came very close to watching that FIFA World Cup in beach shorts and flip-flops on his Catalonian couch.He would later describe the year leading up to the FIFA World Cup as “hell – both mentally and physically”. “I saw him suffering in the Barça dressing room, in the national team, often racking his brains,” said Xavi in The Secrets of La Roja, a fascinating documentary on Spain’s 2010 campaign you can watch for free on FIFA+.Off the pitch, the sudden death of his close friend Dani Jarque, from a heart attack at the age of 26, had devastated Iniesta. “We had a lovely friendship,” said the Fuentealbilla native. “I realised that the mind is delicate and that sometimes it’s not easy to fight against it. There are times when so many things build up.”On grass, Iniesta had been plagued by injuries, starting only 20 of Barcelona’s 59 games in 2009/10. Alarmingly, he suffered a total rupture of the right femoral biceps muscle in mid-April.“The injury is in a very, very, very, very dangerous spot,” warned his coach Pep Guardiola at the time. “I don’t know whether he’ll be able to go [to the World Cup].”Iniesta didn’t play again before Vicente Del Bosque named his 23-man squad for the tournament. The mercurial playmaker admits to feeling petrified at the genuine possibility of being left at home.The moment of truth came on 20 May. “Midfielders,” Del Bosque announced to a bustling press conference. “Iniesta...” “The coach believed in me,” said Iniesta, the gratitude palpable in his introverted tone.That was not, however, the end of Iniesta’s injury nightmare. If Spain being stunned 1-0 by Switzerland in their curtain-raiser wasn’t devastating enough, the No6 hitting the Moses Mabhida Stadium turf in agony, after a ferocious Stephan Lichtsteiner challenge, heightened the blow.“I could have stayed there in the hopelessness of the moment,” recalled Iniesta. “That’s the truth. I didn’t want to do any tests in the following days because something surely would have shown up and they would have ruled me out. It was like I didn’t want to face reality.”A premature return to Barcelona almost became a reality. Iniesta missed the 2-0 win over Honduras and had all but accepted his tournament was over until Spain’s physical therapist scored a fundamental goal in their quest for global glory.“At one point I was working on that spot and while I did, it loosened up,” explained Raul Martinez. Iniesta added: “He pressed the button and it was immediate. I felt the muscle had loosened. I moved and ran freely, which I had not done in a long time. Thanks to him I was back playing like I wanted.”Requiring victory over a formidable Chile side in their final Group H game to make sure of a place in the knockout phase, Iniesta’s winner secured it for La Roja.David Villa, Iker Casillas and Carles Puyol emerged as the heroes of Spain advancing from the Round of 16, quarter-finals and last four respectively. On 11 July 2010, Inieista walked out to start the biggest game of his life: a World Cup final against the Netherlands.“In that moment, all sorts of things go through your head,” he said. “Everything you’ve been through on a personal level. The really tough moments.“And right before going out to warm up, I remembered – or it kind of came to me – I told [a member of the Spain delegation] to make me an undershirt with the message for Dani. I wanted to play tribute to him at some point.”Inieista couldn’t have dreamed of paying homage to his late friend in such perfect fashion. After 116 goalless minutes, the left-lying playmaker uncharacteristically appeared in a right-sided position a striker would usually take up. “You wondered, ‘What is he doing?’ said Xavi laughing.“I knew exactly how I had to shoot and, at the same time, I knew I had to be really quick,” said Iniesta. “Fate made that ball go where it had to.”That was into the bottom corner of a Soccer City net to crown Spain world champions for the first time. The habitually low-key Iniesta ripped off his shirt, showcasing a t-shirt with the message, ‘Dani Jarque siempre com nosotros’ (Dani Jarque always with us), and screamed hysterically.“That moment was magical,” said Iniesta, wiping away a tear. “To win the World Cup and have the chance to score the winning goal, there’s no way to describe it. To finish it the way I did was a dream. It was history.”The documentary ends with Iniesta and Iker Casillas sitting down together to recall their South Africa 2010 experiences, with the Real Madrid legend expressing a giant ‘gracias’ to his former Barcelona rival – not for winning Spain football’s most prestigious prize, but for making sure brag machine David Villa wasn’t the triumph’s hero!
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05/08/2022
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