Spain’s talented young forwards may have earned the plaudits in Wednesday’s sensational 7-0 World Cup thrashing of Costa Rica but there was an unsung hero pulling the strings from midfield: Sergio Busquets.
The 34-year-old captain was at his impeccable best at the Al Thumama Stadium in Doha, neatly sewing together the intricate pieces of Spain’s uber-talented team.
Busquets’s anticipation, movement off the ball, first touch and decision-making were faultless throughout.
His elegant style allowed him to seemingly stroll through the match without ever breaking into second gear.
As the sparkling abilities of his Barcelona teammates Pedri and Gavi, alongside the attacking trio of Ferran Torres, Marco Asensio and Dani Olmo stole the headlines, Busquets quietly went about his business with ruthless efficiency.
He played a crucial pass in the build up to Spain’s opening goal, spreading the play wide to stretch a defence that was already chasing shadows.
Torres grabbed a brace, Olmo, Asensio and Gavi were also on the scoresheet but Busquets’s calm control and string-pulling was always present in every aspect of Spain’s play.
Like the conductor of an orchestra, Busquets decides when to speed things up, or slow them down, when to play a safe pass backwards, when to keep possession with a simple sideways ball and when to inject some urgency by piercing the defensive line.
Again, for the second goal, it was Busquets’s vision to spot Jordi Alba in acres of space on the left wing that provided the impetus to turn patient possession into a clinical finish from Asensio.
He played more than 70 passes in the first half alone as Spain set a new record for the number of passes before half-time in a World Cup match, 537, surpassing the previous best by more than 100.
Time may be running out for Spain’s fans, and indeed Barcelona’s, to appreciate Busquets’s class as he admitted ahead of this match that it might be his last World Cup.
“I am here to enjoy it, whatever happens. Obviously I am closer to this being my last World Cup,” he said.
He is also out of contract at the Camp Nou at the end of this season and rumoured to be on his way after an 18-year association with the Catalan giants — his only professional club.
His departure would create a huge hole to fill, not just because of his 1m 89cm stature.
His importance to this team cannot be understated as the only surviving member in the squad from Spain’s 2010 champions.
And with the game done and dusted at 4-0, coach Luis Enrique sensibly replaced his veteran talisman to wrap him in cotton wool ahead of tougher tests: starting with wounded Germany on Sunday.