Andres Iniesta confirms retirement from Spain squad after World Cup exit

Posted Monday, July 02, 2018 by ESPN

Andres Iniesta confirms retirement from Spain squad after World Cup exit
David Ramos/FIFA/Getty Images

Andres Iniesta confirmed he has played his last game for Spain after they crashed out of the World Cup on penalties to Russia after Sunday's round-of-16 game in Moscow finished 1-1 after extra time.

Iniesta, 34, had said in May that he was likely to step aside from La Roja after the tournament, although he later said he couldn't rule out a return. However, after coming off the bench in Spain's exit, he confirmed his plans for his international retirement

"This was my last game for Spain," Iniesta told reporters. "A marvellous spell is over. Sometimes the end is not as you dreamed it."

With 131 appearances, Iniesta was Spain's fourth-most-capped player, behind Iker Casillas, Sergio Ramos and Xavi Hernandez.

The midfield maestro, who is also leaving Barcelona to play for Japanese club Vissel Kobe next season, scored 13 international goals in his career, most notably the winner in extra time of the 2010 World Cup final.

"It's bad, it's tough," he said of Spain's exit. "It's a difficult moment, one we have been through on various occasions -- we weren't capable of going that little bit extra.

"The critics don't matter so much; we are angry because we weren't capable of taking another step and we didn't rise to the occasion, despite trying everything.

"On a personal level, it wasn't my dream farewell, but these things happen in life."

However, Iniesta did accept coach Fernando Hierro's decision to leave him out of the starting XI.

"I don't feel hard done by. The coach takes decisions whether you agree with them or not," he said. The coach understood that it was better that way."

Defender Gerard Pique, 31, may also have played his final match with Spain, saying as far back as January that he would be retiring after the tournament, but he did not confirm his plans on Sunday.

Spain captain Ramos, who said it was "very hard" to take his country's "painful" World Cup exit, also did not address his own future plans but said he was sure his national side would be back competing for trophies at the next international tournaments.

"We have a team to keep dreaming," the 32-year-old said on Spain's Telecinco channel. "After all the criticism following the group stages, we have proven ourselves as a team again today. We will be back at big tournaments again.

"Some players will come, others will go, but we're always proud to represent this national team."

Ramos was involved early in pressuring Russia's Sergey Ignashevich into an own goal to give La Roja a perfect start, but the hosts equalised before the break when Artem Dzyuba converted a penalty awarded for a Gerard Pique handball.

Spain became the first team since at least 1966 to make over 1,000 passes in a World Cup game, but created very few clear chances over the 120 minutes. Misses from Koke and Iago Aspas during the shootout allowed Russia to clinch a 4-3 victory and progress to Saturday's quarterfinal in Sochi against Croatia.

Spain, who parted ways with coach Julen Lopetegui just days before the tournament, joined England and Italy as the only teams to lose three shootouts at the World Cup, after they were also dumped out in the quarterfinals in 2002 to hosts South Korea and in 1986 to Belgium.

Speaking directly after the final whistle, Ramos said his team had given everything they could only to come out on the wrong end of the spot-kick "lottery."

"It's very hard," Ramos said. "Whenever you are knocked out of a World Cup, it is very painful. The team did everything possible to try and prove ourselves again. It was not to be.

"We could not do more -- we gave everything. A penalty was the only way they could cause us danger. In extra-time we did everything, again -- kept the ball.

"Penalties are a lottery -- and we lost today, but I am very proud of these players as captain."

Spain had a loud claim for a penalty late in extra time, with both Ramos and Pique appearing to be pulled back during a set piece, although referee Bjorn Kuipers did not see a foul even after consulting the video assistant referee system.

"I've not seen it again, but [a Russia defender] was pulling me and stopped me getting to the ball," Ramos said. "We cannot change anything now. VAR is there to help, and the referee did not whistle it."

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