They called it the party for Iniesta. Spain may boast the two biggest stadiums in European football, yet the Camp Nou and the Bernabeu seldom stage Spain matches.
Instead, La Roja work their way around not just favoured venues, but a range of smaller stadiums, taking the European and world champions to the provinces. It works.
On Tuesday, it was the turn of Albacete, the city of 134,000 in La Mancha famous for making knives, wine and the locally-born Andres Iniesta.
Iniesta was shining for Albacete when Barcelona spotted him as a 12-year-old. Albacete has been good to Iniesta. He made his Spain debut in the city ahead of the 2006 World Cup finals. His family are still there and he invested into the struggling local economy, buying a bodega and then a vineyard. His family work the land and sell the wine.
Iniesta has been good for Albacete. Balompie, the city’s football team were in the Primera Liga when he made his top-flight debut but are now in the regional third division.
The Barcelona midfielder came to their rescue in 2011 when Albacete faced extinction. Iniesta paid €420,000 to save them and become their majority shareholder. In June 2013, he put a further €240,000 aside to pay the wages of Albacete players.
So you can understand why the man who scored the winning goal in the 2010 World Cup finals is idolised in Spain, and especially Albacete.
The Spanish media like a local angle when Spain play in the provinces and Tuesday’s final World Cup qualifier against Georgia was all about Iniesta.
He is not one to readily court the media, but he appeared on the front page of newspapers ahead of the game holding two photos, one of him as a kid in an Albacete shirt which is far too big for him, the other scoring the winner in Soweto.
In the earlier photo, he’s already the team captain, playing on an earth pitch, the type which were common all over Spain until the mid noughties.
Grass pitches were – and remain – the preserve of the biggest clubs. They’re expensive to maintain in such a sunny climate and have to be used sparingly.
Clubs in densely populated cities where land is scarce for football pitches much prefer pitches which can be played on several times each day. It makes them financially viable and a genuine community asset.
The players like Iniesta claim the rough ground of old helped their game as it made the ball harder to control and improved their technique when they were kids, but now kids play on the latest generation artificial surfaces. At least their boots last much longer.
Keen to gauge the mood in Albacete, a television reporter went into the crowd. “Who is your favourite? Iniesta?” asked the journalist. “No, Sergio Ramos,” came the deflating reply.
That glitch apart, everything ran smoothly for Iniesta and Spain in Albacete. They beat Georgia 2-0 to top their group undefeated, though La Roja have looked uncomfortable and lacking their usual brilliance in several games.
Spain are undefeated in 52 World Cup qualifiers though, more than any country in history. Their last defeat was against Denmark in March 1993, over 20 years ago.
They will go to Brazil aiming to become the first European country to win the World Cup in South America.
For Iker Casillas, Xavi and Carles Puyol, it will be their fourth World Cup finals. Only one player, the Mexican, Carbajal, has played in five.
It will also be a third for Iniesta, Ramos, Cesc Fabregas, David Villa and Fernando Torres. That’s if they’re selected.
Having scored in all three internationals this season, Manchester City’s Alvaro Negredo looks like he’s won the audition to be Spain’s centre forward – yes, they’re playing with one now.
His City team mate Jesus Navas was excellent against Georgia, running at players with pace, dribbling and going past them.
Less than spectacular against Belarus last week, Spain were more convincing against Georgia, with full-backs Juanfran and Alberto getting forward with Navas and Pedro.
Spain had 71% of possession and completely dominated the game in which two Premier League players Negredo and Juan Mata got their goals.
Another, Swansea’s Michu, didn’t feature. He played on Friday and worked hard, but saw little of the ball in a weirdly defensive side. He would have preferred to have played Tuesday.
As they do for Barca, Xavi, Iniesta and Busquets started as Spain’s central midfield three. They are likely to start in Brazil, but substitutes Isco and Koke showed that Del Bosque isn’t afraid to go for emerging talents in a midfield already overstocked with world class talent.
Along with host nation Brazil, Spain are favourites to triumph next year. Only Brazil (1962) and Italy (1938) have ever retained a World Cup.
If Spain do, this current side, who have also won the last two European championships, will be fit to be labelled the greatest ever. But it’s still a big ‘if’.