Andres Iniesta said it felt “special” receiving an ovation from the fans in Albacete after a man-of-the-match performance helped Spain to a 2-0 win over Georgia that sealed World Cup qualification.
Iniesta played for Albacete’s youth sides before joining Barcelona’s La Masia academy aged 12, and in more recent years has personally rescued his former club from bankruptcy, with his family’s vineyard the Segunda B side’s current backer and shirt sponsor.
The midfielder was the centre of attention in his home country prior to the game this week, and then received a standing ovation from the Estadio Carlos Belmonte crowd when withdrawn by coach Vicente del Bosque with a few minutes remaining.
He told AS afterwards that it had been a special few days for him.
“These days have been very special, days of strong emotions being close to my family and feeling the affection of the people,” Iniesta said. “There could not be a better place to seal qualification than Albacete. It was the best place. Returning here, with the national team, was very special.”
Spain needed only a point from the game to be sure of qualification, which was always on the cards -- especially after Iniesta laid on the opener for Alvaro Negredo.
The Manchester City striker, who has now scored in each of Spain’s final three qualifiers, told Al Primer Toque that he was delighted both with sealing progression to Brazil and to be getting a chance to impress.
“We are very happy to have done it,” Negredo said. “And me especially for having been able to help us get top spot in the group and to be at the World Cup. We have worked very hard to achieve it.
“My objective is to be here with la Seleccion, and I had the fortune to score the goal. I must be grateful that the coach trusts in me. I try to take advantage of my opportunities. It is important to play 90 minutes. This will be very good for my confidence, and I hope I will have more complete games.”
Last summer’s move to City from Sevilla was helping him improve, Negredo said.
“When you go to another team you hope to keep growing as a player,” he said. “If I can keep improving in Manchester that is good for me. It is very competitive and you must keep working hard. Hopefully we can have a good year and things go well for me.”
Chelsea’s Juan Mata made sure of the result by firing in the second goal soon after entering as a second half substitute. He also told Al Primer Toque that he had shown he had not let a difficult start to the season under new Blues coach Jose Mourinho get him down.
“The goal shows that I am fine,” Mata said. “I am playing good games, my form is good and I feel in a good moment. I never lost my smile -- honestly. I am a person who trusts a lot in myself and is very positive. It is true that I had a difficult preseason, with injury and nothing more. But now I feel good, and am looking forward to having a good season.”