How vital is Iniesta to Spain?

With Spain already looking like potential Euro 2016 champions, the current European Champions have one man to thank for their early tournament success. At 32, midfielder Andres Iniesta is proving age is no hindrance. But why, exactly, is he so important to Spain?

Main man
No longer aided by his long term club and country partner Xavi, Iniesta is now partnered in central midfield by his former Barcelona teammate Cesc Fabregas. While Fabregas lacks the effortless majesty of Xavi, the Chelsea midfielder functions in the same role Xavi thrived in. Fabregas keeps the ball moving at a steady pace for a team that prioritises possession more so than most.

If it is Fabregas’ task to maintain Spain’s perpetual motion, Iniesta’s job is far more impactful. The 32-year-old is the creative catalyst, the final-ball player, the key influencer. Even as one of Spain’s elder statesmen, he injects pace into side from central positions like no other. Jordi Alba and Nolito provide the wide zip so important to the team’s movement, but it would be useless without Iniesta’s ability to quicken Spain’s play from the middle either with a piece of sharp footwork or an observant through-ball.

Coming alive
Take their wonderful third goal against Turkey, for example. Spain passed the ball 20 times before it fell to Iniesta on the edge of the opposition penalty area. While admirable in its technique and accuracy, Spain’s passing up to that point felt peripheral, as if retaining possession was more important than adding a third goal. But Iniesta’s quick feet and darting pass changed that. Jordi Alba was on the end of it in an instant, playing in Alvaro Morata for his second goal of the game.

Iniesta’s urgency in a seemingly sterile phase of the game resulted in a telling moment of destiny, a third goal that killed off Turkey once and for all. Those with even longer memories will recall Iniesta doing almost the exact same thing in Spain’s Euro 2016 opener against the Czech Republic. Spain did everything possible to break the Czech resolve but simply couldn’t find a way through. That was until Iniesta’s pinpoint cross landed on the head of Gerard Pique in the 87th minute. Another moment of Iniesta magic, another win. We’ve seen it so many times before.

Match winner
His ability to win a game with a single pass is the most important trait Spain’s midfield talisman offers, and it is crucial he carries it into the knockout stages where the opposition will be even more determined to stifle the best team at the tournament so far. But why would anyone doubt Iniesta’s capability to take his current form into the next stage of the competition?

Well, it’s true Iniesta has receded slightly over the last couple of seasons. Without a doubt he was at his very best under the stewardship of Pep Guardiola at Barcelona, when he had the incomparable Xavi by his side.

However, what Iniesta possesses - and will likely never neglect - is an inclination to perform on the biggest of stages. Even without the assistance of Xavi, Iniesta has almost never failed to turn up on the biggest occasions. His display in Barcelona’s 4-0 El Clasico thrashing of Real Madrid was perhaps the best of any midfielder in La Liga last season. The Spaniard controlled the game, dictating just about every moment, and scored an excellent goal too. There is a viable argument that Iniesta is the best big-game player ever to grace a pitch.

This is a man who scored the winning goal at a World Cup, a man who has won eight La Liga titles, four Champions League trophies. If Spain are to go all the way, potentially winning their third successive European Championship, they’ll need the unrivalled influence of Andres Iniesta more than anything else.