Andres Iniesta, who scored Spain’s winning goal in the 2010 World Cup final, has announced his retirement from international football following the team’s exit against Russia.
The 34-year-old came on as a substitute as Spain lost 4-3 on penalties to the hosts in the last 16 on Sunday.
Iniesta’s last kick for his country was to score in the shootout in his 131st – and final – international outing.
“It is a reality that is my last match with the national team,” he said.
Iniesta, who made his debut in 2006, also helped Spain win the European Championship in 2008 and 2012 during a glittering 12-year international career.
“Sometimes the endings are not as one dream,” added the former Barcelona player. “It is the saddest day of my career.”
Iniesta ended his 22-year career at Barca in May when he moved to Japanese top-flight side Vissel Kobe.
He won 32 trophies at Barcelona, where he made 674 senior appearances, having joined the youth set-up aged 12.
Spain boss Fernando Hierro described 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 wholeheartedly,” he said.
Chelsea midfielder Cesc Fabregas, who played with Iniesta at Barcelona and for Spain, added: “Andres doesn’t deserve to go out like this.”
‘There is a lot of pain’
Iniesta’s announcement came after Spain were on the receiving end of the 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 to spark scenes of delirious celebration at Moscow’s Luzhniki Stadium.
Spain’s preparations for the tournament were rocked when they sacked boss Julen Lopetegui for failing to tell his federation about his post-World Cup move to Real Madrid.
Former Real Madrid player Hierro, 50, was promptly placed in charge and steered the team through the group stage before the loss to Russia, the lowest ranked team at the tournament.
“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.”
‘No regrets over Lopetegui sacking’
Spain were unbeaten under Lopetegui, winning 14 and drawing six of the 20 games before his dismissal.
However, Spanish Football Federation president Luis Rubiales said he had no regrets over the decision to relieve Lopetegui of his duties on the eve of the World Cup.
Speaking after the defeat to Russia, Rubiales said: “It was done with conviction and values that aren’t influenced by subsequent results.
“What I have clear is that I’m proud of the way Hierro and his staff have behaved. Hierro has assumed this responsibility with bravery.
“In the coming weeks, we will see what’s best for everyone. We’re the toughest judges of ourselves and we’ll see what things can be improved.
“I’m very proud of my staff and I give them a 10. Pain? Yes, we were better, but this is sport. You must congratulate Russia.”
‘Spain were a destroyed team’ – how the media reacted
Spain’s media did not hold back in their criticism after the team’s World Cup exit.
“The collection of passes in slow motion, the lack of intensity at 1-0, the lack of creative solutions throughout the second half and extra-time explain the disaster,” wrote Marca.
“Once the penalty shoot-out arrived Spain were a destroyed team, without the requisite psychological strength to face such a lottery.”
Meanwhile, El Pais’ headline was “Spain goes back a decade”.
It added: “The Russian exit was not the result of a bad day. The collapse was multi-faceted from day one. On the pitch, nobody has been up to the task.”
El Mundo compared the Spanish team to an “ageing aristocrat for whom the revolution has passed by and who is unable to accept that his time is in the past.”
It concluded: “Spain must forget what it was and think about who it wants to be.”