Andres Iniesta says it will be special to play his 500th game for Barcelona in Wednesday’s Champions League quarterfinal second leg at Atletico Madrid.
Iniesta made his Barca debut against Bruges in the Champions League in October 2002, and will now reach the landmark at Atletico’s Estadio Vicente Calderon, in the return game of a tie which is delicately poised after last week’s tight 1-1 first-leg draw between the teams at the Camp Nou.
Catalan daily Sport has produced a special cover showing Iniesta posing with a "500" Barca jersey to mark the occasion, and inside the Spain midfielder said that it was especially gratifying to reach the figure knowing the demands faced every time you pull on a Blaugrana shirt.
“It is something very special, which makes me very happy,” Iniesta said. “I want to say that the years pass and you keep competing and feeling good. This the hardest club to play for.”
Iniesta said that Barca -- who have drawn all four games against Atletico so far this season -- would need to play a "perfect game" at the Calderon to progress.
“We need to play a perfect game to keep on the path to the semifinals,” he said. “We know we are up against a very difficult opponent, for what we have seen in all the games we have played against them.
"We must score no matter what, and be fully aware all the time. We are going there with confident of playing a great game, of being able to go through in the tie, and excited about returning to the semifinals. We know it will be difficult, but the team is able to do it.”
Albacete-born Iniesta moved to Barca’s La Masia youth academy aged just 12 in 1996, and suffered home-sickness for a significant time before finally settling and moving smoothly through the ranks to the first team.
He followed the line set by club president Josep Maria Bartomeu, and echoed teammate Xavi Hernandez, in suggesting FIFA should reconsider the transfer ban recently imposed on Barca given the superb treatment youngsters receive at the Catalan club.
"My personal experience leaves no place for doubts about what La Masia represents, or what it means to work here,” he said. “Barca in this sense is an exemplary club.”