Spain hails inspirational Iniesta, berates Drogba

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The Independent Online

The ecstatic face of Barcelona's Andres Iniesta adorned the front pages of the Spanish newspapers today after his dramatic goal in added time sent Pep Guardiola's side through to the Champions League final.

Pictures showed the normally unassuming 24-year-old midfielder from the village of Fuentealbilla near Albacete roaring in triumph, yellow Barca shirt in hand, as he sprinted to the corner flag to celebrate his 93rd-minute strike.

British newspapers sympathised with Chelsea's claims of a poor refereeing performance by Norwegian Tom Henning Ovrebo but were united in their condemnation of Didier Drogba and Michael Ballack's post-match protestations.

"Iniesta, a heavenly goal," (El Pais), "Iniesta the quiet hero," (El Mundo), "Iniesta works the miracle," (As), were some of the headlines in Spain, many with a religious theme.

"Now we know who the God of football is," As columnist Juan Cruz wrote. "His name is Andres, he is shy and he comes from Albacete. He's a good person and last night he made me cry."

Many newspapers also ran pictures of the thousands of Barca fans who celebrated into the night at the Canaletes fountain on the Paseo de las Ramblas in the Catalan capital.

They had barely had time to recover from the outpouring of joy prompted by Barca's record 6-2 win at Real Madrid on Saturday that all-but wrapped up the Spanish league title.

Writing in daily El Pais, Luis Martin said Iniesta had become obsessed with improving his shooting in recent years and the work had borne fruit on Wednesday at Stamford Bridge.

"Barca is in the final in Rome and Iniesta will rightly go down in the history of the club," he said.

In El Mundo, Miguel Herguedas noted how Iniesta had arrived at Barca's famed youth academy aged just 12.

"Those early days in Barcelona were hard for this diminutive and shy Manchegan, far from his family and with the soccer ball as his only reference point.

"He never raised his voice, nor let himself be seduced by offers of millions, because he was faithful to the club that gave him the chance of his life."

British writers also hailed Iniesta's pervasive contribution.

"Exquisite Iniesta inflicts far worse suffering than UEFA will devise" read The Guardian headline ahead of almost certain punishment from European soccer's governing body for Chelsea and its players after they angrily surrounded the referee at the final whistle.

"Cheated Out", "Blue Murder at the Bridge" roared headlines in the Daily Mail as the press shared Chelsea's astonishment that none of their penalty appeals, especially a clear handball by Gerard Pique, had found favour with the referee.

The sympathy dried up, however, as Drogba remonstrated with Ovrebo as the distraught Chelsea players made their way off the pitch.

"The rancour of Chelsea's response to defeat, orchestrated by the incorrigible Didier Drogba, deserves to earn them punishment from UEFA as well as the disdain of the rest of the continent," wrote the Guardian's Richard Williams.

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