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   June 18, 2002 | 1130 IST


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Hierro to retire from international football

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Spain captain Fernando Hierro will bring his 13-year international career to an end when his team complete their World Cup campaign.

"It's a very difficult moment for me," the 34-year-old central defender announced on Tuesday, his voice breaking up with emotion.

"I took the decision back in December last year and announced it to the football federation and the coach. It had become clear to me that this was the ideal moment.

"It's time for me to dedicate myself to my club, Real Madrid."

Remarkably for a defender, Hierro is Spain's leading international goalscorer as well as being the country's most capped outfield player.

He made his debut in September 1989 in a 1-0 win over Poland and has played 88 games for the full international side, scoring 29 goals.

Hierro has now appeared at four World Cups, dating back to 1990 when he was a non-playing member of Spain's squad in Italy.

Four years on, he was an ever present in the United States, when Spain were unlucky to lose in the quarter-finals to Italy, and he played a full part again in France four years ago when the team went out in the first round.

He began the current Spanish campaign with a bang, scoring penalties in each of the side's first two wins against Slovenia and Paraguay.

In the second round he gave away the penalty that allowed Ireland the opportunity to equalise in the final minute, but he was his usual unruffled self in extra time and calmly slotted in Spain's first penalty in a shootout they won 3-2.

Spain next take on Italy or South Korea in the quarter-finals, and Hierro is hoping he can postpone his international retirement for three more games by taking his side through to the final.

"I hope to take make it to 91 games before my time is up," Hierro said. "I think Spain deserve that.

"I'm satisfied with my role in international football. I've given it everything for my country, for the national team and for my team mates."

Hierro was flanked throughout his news conference by a representative of the Spanish football federation and Spain coach Jose Antonio Camacho, who paid tribute to his captain.

"A great person is quitting the national team," Camacho said. "It's going to be very difficult to find a substitute."

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