For Spain to fire on all cylinders at this summer's FIFA World Cup in Russia, ageless midfield maestro Andres Iniesta will have to be used properly so that he can remain at the peak of his powers throughout the competition, feels Spanish football tactician Antonio Habas.
Iniesta, 34, is likely to retire from international football after Spain play at the World Cup in few days' time.
The legendary midfielder, who left FC Barcelona last month after spending 16 seasons with the Catalan club, told mediapersons in May that "if nothing strange happens, this World Cup will be my last participation with the Spanish national team."
Habas, who was once assistant to former Real Madrid and Liverpool head coach Rafael Benitez at Valencia in 2005, feels Spain head coach Julen Lopetegui should make sure Iniesta is not overworked during the course of the competition.
"He has played many games this year," Habas told IANS over phone from his hometown in Madrid on Tuesday.
"Lopetegui should be careful in using him. He has to sufficiently rested so that his performance is balanced until the end of the championship," said Habas, who guided ATK to the semi-finals of Indian Super League (ISL) second season besides winning the competition in its inaugural season.
Iniesta will be expected to pull the strings for contenders Spain who also have the likes of veteran defensive midfielder Sergio Busquets, the gifted Saul Niguez, Koke, Thiago Alcantara and the industrious David Silva.
Habas said the 2010 World Cup winners have technically and tactically gifted players who can make a difference. Iniesta, incidentally, scored the winninng goal in the 2010 final against the Netherlands.
"Spain is one of the favourite teams to the title. It has a great technical and tactical level.
"At the same time, it has very competitive players, accustomed to high competition and that belong to big clubs of Europe," Habas, 61, said.
The former FC Pune City coach pointed out in the same breath that the likes of Neymar's Brazil and Lionel Messi's Argentina are also hot favourites besides Belgium and Colombia who are dark horses.
"There are other teams in the same situation (technically and tactically good) and they also have a chance to win the World Cup, such as Brazil, Argentina, Germany and some others who can cause a surprise like like Belgium or Colombia."
This World Cup could also see Messi, 30 and Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo, 33, in full tilt for the last time. Asked about the superstar pair, Habas said they need their teammates to support them in their endeavour as football, at the end of the day, is a team sport.
"They are the best players in the world, besides Neymar, but they need good players and good teams to support them and make their soccer balanced. It's a team sport and it is not possible to do magic alone."
Although Portugal won the European Championships in 2016 defying odds, they don't boast of too many big names other than Real Madrid's goal-machine Ronaldo.
The case is similar with Messi who is yet to win a major trophy with his country, and fired the 1978 and 1986 winners into the World Cup with a sublime hat-trick in a must-win qualifier.
Habas signed off by refusing to name one favourite who he thinks will lift the trophy on July 15 in Moscow.
(Debayan Mukherjee can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)