Iniesta ready for face-off against ex-team Barcelona

Vissel Kobe's Andres Iniesta, right, and FC Barcelona's Hiroki Abe at Noevir Stadium in Kobe, western Japan, Friday, July 26, 2019. (AP)
Updated 26 July 2019

Iniesta ready for face-off against ex-team Barcelona

  • “We all feel that it is such an honor to play Barca,” says the World Cup-winning Spaniard
  • Iniesta signed for Kobe last May

KOBE, Japan: Barcelona legend Andres Iniesta is looking forward to taking on his former teammates when his Vissel Kobe meets Barcelona this weekend for a friendly, saying Friday the face-off will be “an honor.”
The match Saturday in the Japanese city of Kobe will be a reunion of sorts, with Barcelona’s current line-up facing ex-teammates Iniesta, David Villa and Sergi Samper, all now Vissel players.
It will be the first time Iniesta has met his former team on the pitch.
“We all feel that it is such an honor to play Barca,” Iniesta told reporters through a Japanese translator.
“The team, Barcelona, is special... It will be a very important match for us,” he said.
World Cup-winning Iniesta, who lifted 32 major trophies with Barcelona, signed for Kobe last May in a historic J-League deal worth a reported $30 million a year. The 34-year-old was appointed the team’s captain in April.
The friendly is Barca’s last match in Japan before they head home, and midfielder Sergio Busquets said the chance to meet Iniesta on the pitch “means a lot” to the players.
“Now he is in Japan and having new experiences. But it does not change the fact that he is a very important friend still,” Busquets said.
“Now I am giving him these kind words, but tomorrow on the pitch I won’t be able to be like this. We will fight with full strength.”
The match comes after Chelsea defeated Barcelona 2-1 in their friendly in Saitama north of Tokyo earlier this week in a game that saw the unofficial debuts of World Cup-winning French striker Antoine Griezmann and former Ajax midfielder Frenkie de Jong.
Manager Ernesto Valverde said he wanted to see the new arrivals getting used to playing with the team and hoped for a better result for Saturday’s match.
“I’m sure you saw the game the other day, in which they both played. I want them to play better than that with other players,” he said.
Defender Gerard Pique will not play on Saturday as a precaution due to discomfort in his left thigh, Valverde said.
Iniesta’s signing was viewed as a timely boost to the J-League, which once attracted luminaries such as Brazilian great Zico and former England striker Gary Lineker when it began in 1993 but has struggled to tempt marquee players in recent years.


Tennis champion Rafael Nadal not sure about 2020 US Open

Updated 04 June 2020

Tennis champion Rafael Nadal not sure about 2020 US Open

  • ‘If you (ask) me today, I will say, ‘No’’
  • Tennis, like most sports, has been on hold since March because of the COVID-19 outbreak

If it weren’t for a pandemic-caused postponement, the French Open would have been in Week 2 now, and Rafael Nadal might still have been in contention for a 20th Grand Slam title. Instead, he’s home in Spain, practicing lightly — and wondering along with everyone else in tennis whether the next Grand Slam tournament, the US Open, will be held.
“If you (ask) me today, I will say, ‘No,’” Nadal said with a shake of his head during a video conference call with The Associated Press and other wire services Thursday.
“In a couple of months? I don’t know. Hopefully, ‘Yes,’” he continued. “But we need to wait probably until we have more clear information about how the virus evolves and how the situation is going to be in New York in a couple of months. Because, of course, New York has been one of the places that have been very strongly hit by the virus. So, let’s see.”
Nadal thinks there are two key requirements for the US Open to happen — and for tennis to resume anywhere: assurances about being protected from the coronavirus and having everyone be able to fly internationally.
“We can’t come back until the situation is completely safe enough in terms of (health),” he said, “and fair enough in terms of all the players from every single (country) can travel to the tournaments under safe circumstances to compete.”
Tennis, like most sports, has been on hold since March because of the COVID-19 outbreak.
The ATP and WTA tours are suspended at least until late July. The French Open’s start was pushed back from May until September. Wimbledon was canceled for the first time in 75 years.
A decision about the US Open is expected within weeks; the tournament’s main draw is scheduled to begin in New York on Aug. 31.
The US Tennis Association’s chief executive for pro tennis, Stacey Allaster, told said on Saturday that contingency plans include providing charter flights from around the world for players and requiring proof of negative virus tests before travel.
“I really believe we need to be patient, be responsible,” Nadal said, “and we need to (be) calm and do the things the right way.”
Nadal, who turned 34 on Wednesday, said he didn’t touch a racket for more than two months before recently resuming training in a less-intense way than normal and “not testing my body.”
“I am going very slow, step by step, not playing every single day and not practicing much,” he said.
Usually at this time of year, he is exerting himself on the red clay of Roland Garros, where he has won a record 12 of his 19 major championships.
He’s neither optimistic nor pessimistic right now about whether the French Open can be played later in 2020.
“I miss playing tennis. I miss playing the tournament that I love the most,” Nadal said. “But at the same time, my mind is not thinking about that. My mind is focused on trying to recover the normal life. The first thing we have to do is recover the normal.”