Andres Iniesta is rejecting personal plaudits as his Spain team prepares to meet Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal today for a place in the European Championship final.
Iniesta squirmed in his seat at the Donbass Arena in Donetsk, Ukraine, yesterday as two of his teammates, Alvaro Arbeloa and Alvaro Negredo, were asked to describe the qualities that have put the Barcelona midfielder in contention for the best player award at the continental soccer championship.
“I don’t really wish personally for any such award,” Iniesta, 28, told reporters. “The truth is the only thing I’m thinking about right now is for Spain to go through to the final and for Spain to lift the trophy again. That’s my only preoccupation. Everything else is not important.”
Iniesta, who scored the winning goal that gave Spain its first World Cup title in 2010, was the man of the match in two of his team’s four games in Poland and Ukraine as it seeks to become the first nation to repeat as European champion.
Following his extra-time goal at Johannesburg’s Soccer City stadium two years ago in the World Cup final, the 5-foot-7 (1.7 meter) Iniesta described his contribution as “small.”
While Iniesta said he regards himself as another cog in a team that hasn’t been eliminated from a European Championship or World Cup tournament since a round of 16 loss to France in 2006, opponents view him differently.
France coach Laurent Blanc overhauled his team to counter Iniesta’s combination play with left-back Jordi Alba in the June 23 quarterfinal. Blanc’s tactic of playing two right-sided defenders in Anthony Reveillere and Mathieu Debuchy unraveled within 19 minutes.
Iniesta wriggled past both players, forcing one to slip over, before freeing Alba to cross for Xabi Alonso to head the opening goal in a 2-0 victory.
The previous match, with a place in the last eight not guaranteed and Group C rival Croatia threatening an upset, Iniesta surged into the penalty area and passed for substitute Jesus Navas to score the winning goal with two minutes left.
“We all know he’s a player with great qualities,” striker Negredo said when asked to evaluate Iniesta. “When he has the ball it is the decisive factor and that’s what makes the difference on the pitch.”
Ronaldo, who had scored three goals for Portugal in its past three tournaments, has also been influential at Euro 2012, where’s he’s doubled that tally.
The world’s most expensive player scored twice in a 2-1 victory over the Netherlands that set up a meeting with the Czech Republic in the quarterfinals, where he got the only goal to move into a four-way tie atop the scoring list.
According to Spain coach Vicente del Bosque, Spain must try to “deactivate” Ronaldo, who is ranked No. 1 on an index that tracks player performances at the 16-team event.
“It’s logical there’s been so much talk about Ronaldo,” Del Bosque said at a news conference. “We have to take notice because he’s been an excellent player.”
Iniesta, who is ranked No. 5 on the tournament’s official Castrol EDGE Index, said he’d be happy for Ronaldo to leave with the best player accolade as long as Spain returns home with the championship trophy.
“It doesn’t matter who of the individual players wins what,” Iniesta said.