GERARD PIQUE has announced his international retirement from Spain duty.
The defender played 102 times for his country over nine years, making his debut in a 2-0 win over England in February 2009.
He earned his final international caps at this summer’s World Cup in Russia, where he played in all four of La Roja’s matches as they crashed out on penalties to the hosts in the Round of 16.
The Barca man endured a difficult game against Russia, where he was lucky not to be sent off for a two-footed tackle and gave away a penalty for handball.
Pique announced before the tournament he was planning to bring his international career to an end following this summer’s World Cup.
He said “the decision had already been made a long time ago and it was well thought out” and he felt “fortunate for being a part of the national team during such a beautiful and successful time”.
Pique was a member of Vicente del Bosque’s World Cup-winning squad in 2010, the only Spanish side to win the tournament, and was a member of the Euro 2012 squad, too.
The centre-back played every minute of the World Cup campaign in South Africa and repeated the feat two years later in Poland and Ukraine.
His tally of 102 caps ranks him 11th in the all-time list of Spanish appearance makers, alongside Raul.
Only 13 players in history have made 100 or more appearances for the Spanish national side, 11 of which were part of the World Cup squad in 2010.
The 31-year-old found the net five times for Spain. Remarkably, four of those were scored in his first 13 appearances in 2009 before adding his fifth at Euro 2016 against Czech Republic.
Pique spent seven years in Barcelona’s youth set-up before moving to Manchester United in 2004, where he made 23 first-team appearances before re-joining Barcelona in 2008.
Since then, he has been a virtual ever-present at the heart of the Barca defence alongside Carles Puyol, Javier Mascherano and, more recently, Samuel Umtiti.
His retirement from international football means Pique can focus solely on his club football at the Nou Camp and attempt to add to his seven La Ligas, six Copa del Reys and three Champions Leagues.
For Spain, centre-back and captain Sergio Ramos will have to get used to a new central defensive partner, with Real Madrid team-mate Nacho Fernandez a likely candidate.
Nacho made two appearances at the World Cup, both as a right-back, and scored one of the goals of the tournament in the thrilling 3-3 draw with Portugal.
Pique’s former Barcelona team-mate Andres Iniesta also retired from international football following Spain’s World Cup exit.