Andres Iniesta rounded off his highly decorated Barcelona career yesterday evening with a vintage display during his side’s La Liga curtain closer as they overcome Real Sociedad 1-0 in a teeming Camp Nou.
Despite the moment seemingly set for the midfield magician to show his magic one more time, Philippe Coutinho provided his instead, with the Brazil international’s 25-yard curling stunner the difference between the Catalonians and the traveling Basque Countrymen.
It was a fitting way to sign off such a memorable campaign for Blaugrana, who secured their eighth domestic double and tasted defeat just once in a league term that will live long in the memory of the Barca faithful.
A touching mosaic dedicated to arguably Spain’s greatest midfielder of all time, reading ‘Infinit Iniesta’, reached from floor to sky throughout Camp Nou as Real Sociedad welcomed the hosts through a guard of honour onto Catalonia’s hallowed turf for the final time this season.
Almost testimonial-like, an orchestra of appreciation met the recently-turned 34-year-old as the ball graced his boots, with supersized banners above the ultras reading a simple message of thanks to the Barcelona legend for his 22 years of service.
And despite a somewhat controlled opening from Ernesto Valverde’s men – with the visitors fashioning arguably the best chances of the opening quarter through Willian Jose and Adnan Januzaj – Ivan Rakitic had the opportunity to fire his side into the lead.
The midfielder should have done better with his free header around 12 yards from goal midway through the first half, but the 30-year-old could only spear the attempt wide.
As half-time closed in, the 84,000-strong party atmosphere surrounding Camp Nou turned to anger and concern as Ousmane Dembele found himself on the receiving end of a terribly timed challenge which could have quite comfortably ended the 21-year-old’s evening and potentially his summer trip to Russia.
However, luckily for the France international, the studs-up lunge seemed to do less damage than initially thought, and following the booking of Raul Navas, as well as Luis Suarez for his protests for a more severe repercussion , referee Jose Munuera Montero brought the first 45 to a close.
After the break, Dembele lasted only eight minutes before being replaced by the in-form Denis Suarez, and the balance the 24-year-old brings had a swift effect as Coutinho netted an absolute stunner from range to hand Barcelona the advantage and head into double figures in Barca colours.
The Brazilian picked up the ball midway inside Sociedad’s half before utilising the decoy run of Gerard Pique to his left to craft enough space to unleash a strike seen so often from the 25-year-old, which left goalkeeper Miguel Angel Moya stranded before rippling the net after initially finding the inside of the woodwork.
However, despite the former Liverpool man’s
A departure which started with an embrace with his Argentine teammate as he passed over the captain’s armband was followed by a slow, teary-eyed, applause-soaked stroll as each Barca player, supporter and coach showed their eternal gratitude towards the Catalan legend.
As the final moments wound down, a continuous chorus of chant held only one name; Iniesta, and the World Cup winner’s solo inclusion could not have been more fitting – as Camp Nou finally came to terms that there will never be another Andres Iniesta.