Sport

Spain's Iniesta wants Iran win, World Cup trophy in swansong

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

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KAZAN, Russia (AFP) — Midfield legend Andres Iniesta has pledged Spain will overcome their early World Cup woes in Russia by beating Iran today to set up another tilt at the title.

Iniesta, who scored Spain's extra-time winner on their way to victory over the Netherlands in South Africa in 2010, is playing his final World Cup, having recently ended his long and successful club career with Barcelona to join Japanese side Vissel Kobe.

A scintillating 3-3 draw with Portugal in their Group B opener means Fernando Hierro's side desperately need to beat Iran to secure the chance of a last 16-place ahead of a final group match with Morocco.

Although he refuses to take Carlos Queiroz's Asian heavyweights for granted, the 34-year-old Iniesta is intent on lifting a second World Cup trophy to add to the pair of European Championship titles he won with Spain in 2008 and 2012.

“Players always want to win the biggest-possible trophies and it's no secret we'd like to win the World Cup,” Iniesta told media at Kazan Arena yesterday.

“It won't be easy. We have to work very hard, but we have a dream that we're all focused on.”

With Iran sitting top of Group B following their 1-0 win over Morocco and determined to produce the game of their lives, Spain can ill afford to slip up.

But Iniesta added: “Tomorrow is like a final; if we win it will give us an advantage in our group and then we can start to look towards the later stages.

“It will be a tough game, but you have to remember we're a really united team that's been together for many years.

“We trust each other blindly.”

Spain began the World Cup in ominous fashion with long-time coach Julen Lopetegui sensationally sacked on the eve of the tournament after Real Madrid announced he would be joining the club in July.

Hierro, who scored 29 goals in an 89-cap career with Spain, was promoted from his role as sporting director in time for their crunch opener with Portugal.

“That didn't suit us at all; it was a difficult situation,” conceded Iniesta.

Hierro is set to welcome back Real defender Dani Carvajal after his recovery from a hamstring injury suffered in the Champions League final.

“Dani's doing well, he's been training with rest of the team for a week. He's available,” said Hierro.

On paper, Spain, ranked 10th in the world, should have no major problems overcoming an Iran side sitting 27 places below them.

But Hierro is taking nothing for granted, especially from his “close friend” Queiroz.

“Everyone knows him from Manchester United and Real Madrid, but he's done a great job with Iran,” he added.

“They'll go on the pitch knowing what they want to do.

“It's not easy to score against them, they're strong physically so it's going to be tough.”

But Hierro, like Iniesta, has no intention of being the man who steered Spain to an unthinkable World Cup disaster.

“It's our second game and it's difficult, but we want the three points to give ourselves options for the third game.

“I repeat: We have a lot of respect for Iran, as we do for every opponent.

“But we also have our own personality and our own style, and we trust in our own game.”

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