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.


Mike Smith wins Jockey Challenge, as female riders make history ahead of Saudi Cup extravaganza

Updated 28 min 29 sec ago

Mike Smith wins Jockey Challenge, as female riders make history ahead of Saudi Cup extravaganza

  • Smith also praised the dirt course ahead of the Saudi Cup the following day

RIYADH: The International Jockeys Challenge proved the perfect curtain raiser to the Saudi Cup as eight races brought some of the world’s best female and male riders to the King Abdulaziz Racetrack for the first time.
On a fine sunny day in Riyadh, the action started at 3.20pm with 1400m (7f) Saudi Bred Maiden, which was won by Etsaam, ridden by Aldaham. Abu Thamer came second with Dayaan third.
The second race of the day, the Equestrian Club Award, saw Saodad, ridden by Irad Ortiz, come home ahead of second place Ibtahej, and Rabiae Blaady.
But it was the the first International Jockeys Challenge of the day that got the swelling crowd going. Run over 1400m (7f), it saw Lisa Allpress, riding Matmon, storm to a win and create history as the first female winner in Saudi Arabia.
“I honestly came here with a very open mind,” Allpress said. “We’ve been very looked after…like I said I had no expectations. I decided to come out with open mind and just enjoy it.”
The win saw her take the early lead of Jockey’s Challenge with 15 points while Olivier Pesilier on Motayammen came in second with Sibylle Vogt on Dolma in third . Crowd favorite Frankie Dettorie, on Moshaghebah, came fifth, behind A Alfouraidi in fourth.
The second Jockeys Challenge, and fourth race of the day, followed shortly afterwards with Mike Smith on Sun Hat leaving the rest of the field in his dust to claim an easy 15 points. Mickaelle Michel on Seif Alsharq came second with Vogt on Laurence in third.
“Really loved this dirt course, I hoping that America takes look at it, it’s a really nice course,” Smith said after the race. “I was blessed to come here many, many years ago at the old track, so I hadn’t been back since. To get started for the big day tomorrow, it’s good way to get started.”
The Equestrian Club Award, Saudi-bred fillies was won by Jennifer, giving jockey Alfouraidi his second win of the day. Shadawah and Qaatefah came in second and throw respectively.
The Jockeys Challenge was hotting up and a familiar name was about to make a break from the rest of field in the sixth race of the day.
The third Jockeys Challenge saw Smith win again, this time riding Paris, to lead the table with a maximum of 30 points. Yutaka Take came second on Makhbour and Camilo Ospina third on Walad Almeterfah.
The fourth and final Jockeys Challenge race of the day went to Vogt, riding, Sabeq’hom, followed by Emma-Jane Wilson on Alshatherwan in second and Frankie Dettori on Sha’erah in third. The results meant that Smith, who came in fifth, won the overall challenge with 33 points.
“It was fun way to start with the International Jockeys Challenge,” Smith said. “The first time that women given the opportunity to ride here and they proved that they belong here, they’re brilliant riders.
Smith also praised the dirt course ahead of the Saudi Cup the following day.
“It’s probably one of the best dirt courses I’ve ever been on, and I’m not just saying that,” he added. “I’m telling you, America should take a page out of you book and do something like this.
Vogt couldn’t hide her delight at claiming her 97th career win, especially as it meant beating a very special opponent.
“My idol is Frankie Dettori and I’m so happy he was behind me,” she said.
In the day’s final race, Princess Nourah bint Abdulrahman Universty Prize, Angel Moreno finished victorious on AlHajjrafee in a very tight race with Mohammed Alnefzi on Heloo Algharam and Morales and Yeshrah Albaal breathing down his neck.