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Shoo-in Iniesta's surprise unfounded

Wednesday 26 December 2012 9.00 CET
UEFA EURO 2012 Best Player of the Tournament, Andrés Iniesta, kisses the trophy

Andrés Iniesta was with the rest of the Spain squad at Kyiv airport the day after the UEFA EURO 2012 final when he received an SMS. "You are player of the tournament." His immediate reply was "Don't fool around with me" before a stream of questions: "Is it official?" he asked, followed by, "When will it be released?" It was not until two hours later, when he was guided to the right page on UEFA.com, that his disbelief was finally dispelled – a scepticism which illustrates the modesty of the Spain and FC Barcelona midfielder.

In some sectors, the distinction marked an overdue reward for a player who, despite scoring the extra-time goal that won the 2010 FIFA World Cup final, had been rated an unsung hero for club and country – largely because of the high quality of his team-mates at both levels. The decision by UEFA's technical team to name him Best Player of the Tournament was, however, taken exclusively on the basis of his contribution to UEFA EURO 2012.

It was a tough call to make and the technical team admitted that had Italy won the final, the acclaim could easily have been for Andrea Pirlo. "Pirlo was magnificent and obviously circumstances didn't help him in the final," said UEFA's then technical director Andy Roxburgh. "Xabi Alonso, Xavi Hernández and Iniesta were all superb. In the case of Xavi, he won the award in 2008 and could easily have won it again. But we felt Iniesta deserved it. In many ways, he symbolised the tournament – the creative, incisive runner, with and without the ball. We felt he epitomised a lot of what we saw and the elements which eventually won the title for his team."

Iniesta was influential in all departments of the game. He worked hard to implement Spain's philosophy of high ball-winning; his passing was accurate, often inspired; dispossessing him was a challenge; his infiltrations on the left flank gave Spain's strikerless formation one of its major weapons; his off-the-ball movement opened spaces for team-mates, notably left-back Jordi Alba; and he was the Spanish player with most shots at goal.

A week after the Kyiv final, Iniesta was in Tarragona to marry his fiancée Anna – a ceremony that supplied front pages for the celebrity press – before returning to his native Fuentealbilla, a town of 2,000 inhabitants in the province of lbacete, where the wines of his Bodegas Iniesta are produced. He then contributed to a cartoon film, doing the voiceover for the hero – an albino pirate.

Agreeing to do so, he maintained, had nothing to do with his own pallid countenance. "I identified with a lot of his values," Iniesta said. "He is very loyal to his captain and his group. He has a deep team spirit. And he's very shy." Andrés was shy enough to disbelieve he was player of the tournament at UEFA EURO 2012. But he was – and deservedly so.

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