To worsen matters for Barcelona, their French left back, Eric Abidal, was shown a red card in the 66th minute after taking down Chelsea’s Nicolas Anelka just outside of the penalty area. The Spaniards were down to ten players and any hope of walking out of Stamford Bridge winners had seemingly vanished. Chelsea continued pressing through the 90th minute, with several attempts on goal and a wealth of missed calls by the referee that would have resulted in nearly unmistakable opportunities.
Then came stoppage time – the additional time added at the end of regulation if the referee perceives there to have been “dead time” during the match (think: players writhing on the ground from “injuries” – this is their punishment for that). On this particular evening, three minutes was the magic number and it was all that Barcelona had left in their season.
Then came Andrés Iniesta – Spain’s humble, majestic, and beloved child.
1:30 into stoppage time, after a threatening attack by Chelsea was sputtered out by a last-ditch slide tackle from center back Gerard Piqué, Iniesta began tirelessly dribbling the ball all the way up to midfield, only to have it tackled away and to find himself face first in the turf. As he stood back up, he found that his childhood pal, Xavi, had gotten the ball back and sent a perfect pass to Brazilian Dani Alves, who was making his way down the right wing. Alves found a yard of space and sent a dangerous cross into Chelsea’s penalty area, only to have it headed across goal and near the touch line by a Chelsea defender. After a failed clearance by another defender, Lionel Messi recovered the ball near the top of the area, but couldn’t find a shot.
It was in that moment that he saw Andrés Iniesta making an open run towards the top of the penalty area.
He passed the ball to Andrés, who must have known that it was now or never. It was 2:09 into stoppage time and there were only 51 seconds left in Barcelona’s season.
That’s when all of London seemingly grew quiet for one unforgettable moment.
Iniesta put his laces to the ball, one touch, and sent it into the upper right corner of Chelsea’s goal.
The Spanish commentator lost it.
Off came Iniesta’s iconic #8 jersey, spinning it in the air as his teammates uncontrollably tackled him into a corner of the field.
Coach Pep Guardiola abandoned his clipboard and ran the length of the field to dive into the pile with his players.
The camera flashed to Michael Essien, who appeared to be in disbelief that the greatest goal of his life would count for nothing more than a consolation prize.
And as sure as the match ended 1-1, Barcelona went on to Rome a month later to defeat Manchester United 2-0 in the final. What has come to be know as the greatest team in history was beginning to leave its mark on the record books.
And incredibly, just a year later, Iniesta would score a goal that would leave his goal against Chelsea in a distant second place in terms of career accomplishments for Spanish soccer. In the 117th minute of extra time in the World Cup final, Iniesta went 1-on-1 with the Dutch goalkeeper and buried the World Cup winner into the back of the net, bringing Spain and their National Team the World Cup trophy for the first time in history.
What’s interesting is that these goals are not what define these victories or Spanish soccer. While started at FC Barcelona, the Spanish National Team also adopted a patient, beautiful style of play that in so many ways reflects their tranquil, easy-going way of life. Furthermore, Andrés Iniesta represents such an interesting puzzle piece on a much higher level than fútbol, having been born near Madrid and recruited by Barcelona at a very young age. He has since become one of the most iconic players in Spanish soccer. And if you know anything about Spanish politics or the social/historic dilemma between Madrid and Barcelona as cities and people, you know how unheard of it is to have anyone at all so proudly and humbly represent Madrid, Barcelona, and Spain.
In the meanwhile, the young man sitting in the bar that day -who spilled his Coke and had the whole bar wondering why he suddenly began jumping and pounding the table in the middle of a Wednesday afternoon- sits writing you this article today as a Spanish teacher and fluent Spanish speaker. And while it may appear on the surface that the above story and my position in life have no apparent connection, that couldn’t be any further from the truth. Every student of Spanish must find a way to make Spanish a part of their life. For me, one way was Spanish soccer. Ever since those formative years leading up to Iniesta’s goal, I’m the guy who will stop on the side of the road to watch a pickup game at the park near my house for hours on end… I’ve played in leagues between living in Cincinnati and Spain weekly for the last decade… my friends, on more than one occasion, haven’t been able to pull me away from a game of FIFA on a Friday night. On top of all of that, I can safely say that there’s not a term in Spanish related to soccer that I don’t know well.
Although you may never find the magic in moments like the one I’ve described above, I implore you to find yours. Spanish film? Comics? Sewing circles? Just make sure you really love it.
And if you do happen to find the magic in moments like Iniesta’s, I hope to catch you around some time for some tiki-taka and golazos.