Andres Iniesta has confirmed his international retirement by saying “now is the time to step aside” after Spain were knocked out of the World Cup.
The 34-year-old ended his trophy-laden spell at Barcelona at the end of the season and will now represent Vissel Kobe in the J-League.
He still started all three group games in the World Cup but was only a substitute in the last-16 clash against Russia and was unable to help Spain through as they crashed out on penalties.
“Now is the time to step aside,” the scorer of the 2010 World Cup final winner said in an open letter.
“It’s not an easy decision, on the contrary, I’ve been thinking about it a lot during the past months.”
After the shootout defeat in Moscow, in which Iniesta came off the bench for his 131st cap to score Spain’s first penalty, the Spanish Football Federation said the midfielder would retire.
His 12-year international career included two European Championships alongside the 2010 World Cup success.
“It was the dream of my life to defend the colours of my country,” Iniesta wrote.
“It was something very special, not just a dream but a great responsibility. During all these years I’ve tried to make myself conscious of what it means and give always my best, to make yourselves (sic) proud.”
Spain’s World Cup campaign began and ended on a sour note, Julen Lopetegui replaced as head coach on the eve of the finals by Fernando Hierro.
“I think that I’ve been lucky to live in one of the best stages of our national team with a great player generation that has been exceptional in every single way,” Iniesta added.
“We’ve achieved great success, things that we all dreamed of since we were kids, but also great deceptions and difficult moments.
“To all, thank you for making me a better team-mate and football player. It’s been a pleasure to share with you all these years.”
Despite the disappointment suffered in Russia, Iniesta believes he is passing the baton on to a group of talented young players as he continues the twilight of his career in Japan.
“The illusion and will to continue are total but I’ve always said that I will do what’s best for the national team,” he wrote.
“The future is thrilling, with a great group of unbelievable players that from now on will have me as an unconditional supporter.”
Iniesta also thanked the coaches and the Spanish Football Federation for their support throughout his international career and signed off by praising his family.
He said: “At last, I would like to thank especially my family: thank you for your unconditional support and for always being by my side. We pursue a dream and we achieve it.”