MADRID (Reuters) - Andres Iniesta scored the goal that won the World Cup for Spain in 2010 and his quick feet and sharp thinking will be central to their hopes of becoming the first side to retain their Euro crown.
Shy and unassuming, the Barcelona playmaker has an uncanny habit of thrusting himself into the limelight with some dramatic goals on the biggest occasions.
Iniesta netted the 116th-minute winner against Netherlands in the World Cup final in South Africa in 2010 and struck a wonderful 94th-minute equaliser away to Chelsea that put Barcelona into the 2009 Champions League final on away goals.
In April, he showed great composure to grab Barca’s third against AC Milan that helped steer them into the Champions League semi-finals for a record-equalling fifth time in a row.
Yet by his own admission, the 27-year-old midfielder, who has netted 11 times in 65 international appearances, thinks he should score more often.
“I get chances and perhaps I should have scored more goals than I have done,” Iniesta told Barca’s TV channel recently.
“Sometimes when you are off the pitch you see a clear chance to score, yet when you are out there you opt for the pass instead. This shouldn’t affect my play, but it would make me a better player.”
Others prefer to focus on his abilities.
Team mate Gerard Pique has described him as “magic”, while his former club coach Pep Guardiola believes he is a “fantastic” player.
“I think Andres has more goals in him than the statistics show but he does so much more than just score goals.”
The slightly-built Iniesta, who won his first international cap in May 2006, plays in the heart of Barcelona’s and Spain’s midfield alongside team mates Xavi and Sergio Busquets.
While the latter two are renowned for their metronomic passing and astute tactical play, Iniesta also brings agility and an ability to glide effortlessly past opponents.
His versatility, playing down either flank or in a more central role, has helped him to keep the likes of Cesc Fabregas and David Silva on the sidelines.
At Euro 2008, he was the only Spanish player to start every game, winning the man-of-the-match award in the semi-final, and he also collected three man-of-the-match awards in South Africa.
Hugely popular with fans for his World Cup-winner, he also won respect from Barca’s bitter city rivals Espanyol for the tribute he made to their former captain Dani Jarque after that famous strike.
Iniesta ripped off his shirt in the celebrations to reveal a vest with a dedication to Jarque, who died of heart failure aged 26 a year earlier. The two had been good friends.
With his pale complexion, receding hairline and humble demeanour he appears the antithesis of the modern sport star, but is the epitome of the talent-based team ethic of the reigning world and European champions.
Editing by Tim Collings/Mike Collett