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Icon, idol, winner: Busquets bows out of the FIFA World Cup with a penalty miss

Only eight players in history – with Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo and Lothar Matthäus between them – have played in more editions of the FIFA World Cup than Sergio Busquets. A stalwart in midfield, a key cog of the team that won the 2010 FIFA World Cup and the UEFA EURO 2012 with Spain, Busquets will be leaving “La Furia Roja” on the back door, after missing a crucial penalty in their loss at Qatar 2022, 1-3 on penalties, against Morocco.

At 34 year old, Busquets – a captain both for his club, FC Barcelona, and for Spain’s national team – is the only member of the excellent midfield trio that wrote history for both club and country, alongside Andres Iniesta and the current Barcelona coach, Xavi.

But he is not as fast as he used to be, nor his stamina is the one required to keep up at the highest level, despite his excellent football IQ enabling him to still control the midfield at times. Earmarked by both Xavi and Pep Guardiola, his former coach, as a future coach, Busquets is seeing his legacy slowly diminishing, despite having won 32 trophies for club and country.

“We wanted to continue in the competition. I think we did well, it was a tough, physical game, as time passed we found more spaces, and in the extra time it was the same. We even had Sarabia’s chance, which was a shame, and then it was penalties in the cruellest way. It was hard for us. We tried to tire them out, to find spaces. Sometimes we managed it, and we lacked a bit of luck, the final ball or the finish,” said Busquets after the loss against Morocco.

One that he was clearly responsible for, having missed a penalty in the toughest of moments, exactly after Unai Simon, Spain’s goalkeeper, kept Spain alive with a save of his own.

A cerebral player, Busquets knows that he is not his old self anymore, despite his excellent resume. “If I were a player, I’d like to be like Busquets,” said Vicente del Bosque, Spain’s World Cup-winning coach in 2010, after the Barcelona midfielder duly delivered a masterclass tournament.

Yet those moments are long gone and the one-club man is likely to move on in the future, as many before him did from that position, including his former teammates, Xavi and Iniesta, and former coach, Pep Guardiola.

Born in Sabadell, Spain, Busquets was always destined to play for Barcelona, as his father, Carles, also spent 16 years at the “blaugrana” club, between 1983 and 1999. Indeed, Busquets entered La Masia, Barca’s renowned academy in 2005, and never looked back from that moment.

He won 30 trophies with Barca, including eight domestic titles and three UEFA Champions League titles, becoming one of the best midfielders in the world, widely praised by many and nominated for the Ballon d’Or, despite not showering Barcelona or Spain with goals. In fact, he only scored 20 for Barca and two for Spain.

However, Busquets is the third most-capped player of all time for Spain, with 143 matches and has the third largest number of appearances for Barcelona, featuring 696 times, needing only four games to become the third player in history with at least 700 games for the club, after Lionel Messi and Xavi.

“You watch the game, you don’t see Busquets. You watch Busquets, you see the whole game,” said Del Bosque. “If I was reincarnated as a player, I’d like to be like him,” added Pep Guardiola.

However, Busquets has been a true leader, an icon, a guy that was not responsible for scoring goals, but to build up the play and control the tempo of the game, things infinitely harder, especially for a team like Spain, which really holds possession over 60-70% of the time.

Pressed about his retirement, Busquets deferred after the loss against Morocco.

“Now the important thing is the selection and not me. It’s a difficult, hard night and you have to get up. Let it serve as an experience for our team. There is good dynamics, a good group and young people. We have to continue,” said the 34-year-old midfielder.

But as his retirement grows closer, it was clear that the last ball he shot at the FIFA World Cup was a penalty miss. His contract with Barcelona also runs out at the end of the season, in June 2023, and the Spanish midfielder will likely finish his stint at Barca.

An era finishing, but for Busquets, there will always be the legacy of countless trophies and teams led. And, who knows, maybe one day he will return as the manager of the “Furia Roja” to vindicate this miss.

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