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Oct, 14, 2013

Iniesta: 'Huge joy' to play in Albacete

Andres Iniesta said he is delighted Spain are playing Tuesday’s final World Cup 2014 qualifier in his home town of Albacete.

• Johnson: The race to Brazil

However, the excitement of the event must not distract from the need to get a point at least to seal direct qualification for next summer’s finals in Brazil.

Iniesta grew up in the small nearby town of Fuentealbilla before moving to Barcelona’s La Masia academy aged 12. He has invested his own money in local side Albacete Balompie, which is one of the many regional Spanish clubs to have fallen into economic difficulties in recent seasons.

The Barcelona star’s family’s vineyard ‘Bodegas Iniesta’ also sponsors the current Segunda B semi-professional club’s jerseys.

The World Cup winner told Monday evening’s pre-game press conference at the Estadio Carlos Belmonte that the game against the Georgians would be special for him.

“When I found out the game would be here, it was a huge joy for me,” Iniesta said. “The emotion will be very strong, because when you feel these things they fill you up. I will enjoy it to the maximum, today and tomorrow, and the local fans must do so too.”

Asked if La Roja coach Vicente Del Bosque might make him captain for the game, Iniesta was quick to point out that ensuring qualification for next summer’s finals overshadows everything else to do with the fixture.

“Nobody should forget that gaining the required result to ensure qualification for Brazil 2014 is by far the most important thing,” he said. “This is not a friendly, we need to be 100% focused on the game. It is not a friendly game, not a homage. [Although] it would be very special for me, on a personal level, to seal qualification here.”

The blaugrana midfielder, 29, did recall his debut for Spain, which also happened to be a pre-World Cup 2006 against Russia played at the Carlos Belmonte.

“I remember it as one of the happiest days of my life - on a sporting level,” Iniesta said. “Having the fortune to make your debut in your home place, can you imagine? Now I have a chance to return again. Obviously I would like to score, but the most important is to help the team and play well.”

Spain won all their qualifiers in their two previous campaigns under Del Bosque, but have struggled more this time around - with 1-1 draws in both their two first home qualifiers against France and Finland. Then came Friday’s narrower than expected 2-1 win against a Belarus side who defended in numbers and nullified the World Champions for long periods of the game.

Iniesta said he expected the Georgians to also sit back and defend, but he hoped his team could score quickly on Tuesday which would open up the game.

“We expect them to set up the same as we found [the opposition] in our last games,” he said. “We can use variants [in attack]. When we go ahead quickly on the scoreboard, then the game is more comfortable.”

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