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Iniesta Greets Japanese Fans, Vows to Win J1 League

Wearing the number eight shirt, Iniesta attended a welcome ceremony at the J1 League club’s home stadium in the city of Kobe.Wearing the number eight shirt, Iniesta attended a welcome ceremony at the J1 League club’s home stadium in the city of Kobe.

Barcelona legend Andres Iniesta on Saturday made his first appearance at Vissel Kobe since signing for the Japanese side, greeting thousands of fans and vowing to make his new club the biggest in Asia.

Wearing the number eight shirt - like he did at Barcelona - the 34-year-old World Cup winner attended a welcome ceremony at the J1 League club’s home stadium in the western port city of Kobe, together with team owner Hiroshi Mikitani, AFC reported.

“This is a big challenge for me,” Iniesta told some 4,000 fans through an interpreter two days after signing his contract at a glitzy unveiling in Tokyo.

“I aim to contribute to the team as much as possible,” said Iniesta, who is reported to have agreed a three-year deal with an annual salary of $30 million, a J1 League record.

“I think I should pursue the best objectives in both football and my life,” he added, saying he wants Vissel to win the league and “if possible, conquer Asia.”

The midfielder, who famously scored Spain’s winning goal against the Netherlands in the 2010 World Cup final, lifted 32 major trophies and made 674 appearances for Barcelona.

Following the World Cup in Russia, Iniesta will join former Arsenal striker Lukas Podolski at Vissel, currently sixth in the J1 League first division after 15 games.

Vissel Kobe’s chairman Hiroshi Mikitani appeared alongside the player at a press conference on Thursday, saying that Iniesta will “inspire Japan and Asian football to bring it in to the next phase.”

Last month an emotional Iniesta announced that, after 22 years as a Barcelona player, this would be his last season with his long-time club. The announcement prompted a lengthy ovation from assembled journalists.

Iniesta, until now a one-club footballer, joined the Spanish giant’s academy when he was 11 years old, and has been a mainstay of the first team since the age of 17.

He departs European football as one of the game’s most decorated players, on a personal level, winning the UEFA Best Player in Europe Award for the 2011/12 season, as well as at both club and international level. This season he helped Barcelona win both the 2017-18 La Liga and Copa del Rey.

He has also been indispensable in his role for the Spanish side, and it was his goal that beat the Netherlands and handed Spain their first World Cup in 2010.

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