Iniesta takes up new challenge in Japan

TOKYO: Hundreds of fans greeted former Barcelona star Andres Iniesta on Wednesday as he arrived in Japan to join up with Vissel Kobe, the J-League first-division side. “It was a long trip. But I had been looking forward to coming to Japan. I’m excited to play with my Vissel team-mates,” Iniesta told reporters after arriving at Kansai airport in the western prefecture of Osaka. “I hope fans will enjoy seeing me and my team play. I will do my best to make my new challenge a success,” the Spaniard said. Iniesta is scheduled to join his new teammates for training on Friday and could make his J-League debut as early as Sunday, when VisselKobe play Shonan Bellmare at home, Kyodo News reported, citing unnamed club officials.
“I want to play as soon as possible. I’ll get in top condition for Sunday, and I hope to show the fans great play.”
In May, Iniesta agreed to join Kobe, who are sixth after 15 games,following the end of his 22-year term at Spanish champions Barcelona. The 34-year-old midfielder is believed to have signed a multi-year deal with an annual salary of $30 million, Kyodo said. Former Germany striker Lukas Podolski also joined Kobe last year from Turkish side Galatasaray.
Earlier this month, Iniesta announced his retirement from international football after Spain’s elimination on penalties against hosts Russia in the World Cup last 16. Iniesta won 32 titles with Barca, and his goal in the final against the Netherlands gave Spain the 2010 World Cup title, in between trophies at Euro 2008 and 2012. Last week, former Spain international Fernando Torres announced that he is signing for Japanese football club Sagan Tosu, who play in the top-tier J1 League after leaving Atletico Madrid last season. — DPA