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.


UFC, boxing back on in Vegas after Nevada approves return

Updated 28 May 2020

UFC, boxing back on in Vegas after Nevada approves return

  • The UFC immediately confirmed its plans to stage a show without fans in attendance Saturday night

NEW YORK: Mixed martial arts and boxing are back in business in Nevada.

The Nevada Athletic Commission unanimously agreed Wednesday to allow two UFC events and two Top Rank boxing shows in Las Vegas over the next two weeks.

The decision ends the moratorium on combat sports that has been in place in Nevada since March 14, when the commission stopped competition amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The UFC immediately confirmed its plans to stage a show without fans in attendance Saturday night at the UFC Apex arena on its expansive corporate complex in Las Vegas, followed by the UFC 250 pay-per-view show at the same place June 6.

Top Rank is expected to hold fan-free boxing shows at the MGM Grand on June 9 and June 11.

Citing the importance of sports to the state’s economy and morale, Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak announced Tuesday night that sporting events could return if promoters followed health rules approved by the appropriate authorities.

The commission on Wednesday approved stringent coronavirus safety protocols to accompany the return of combat sports to their hometown. The UFC and Top Rank have worked closely with the commission in recent weeks to create the protocols, according to Bob Bennett, the commission’s executive director.

“Throughout this process, we’ve been working hand in glove with the UFC,” Bennett said. “I’m aware of their operations plan, and everything is moving forward based on their operations plan and our protocols.”

The UFC established a partial blueprint for the safety rules when it staged three shows in Jacksonville, Florida, earlier this month while waiting to get approval from the Nevada commission to return to
its hometown.

The Nevada commission’s safety protocols include immediate testing and mandated quarantine at a hotel upon all participants’ arrival in Las Vegas, followed by another test and isolation period before the events.

The UFC is expected to stage several domestic cards in Las Vegas over the upcoming weeks, and President Dana White still intends to hold other shows on a private island for fighters not based in the US.

The UFC show Saturday will be headlined by former welterweight champion Tyron Woodley facing Gilbert Burns.

The main event of UFC 250 on June 6 features dominant two-division champion Amanda Nunes defending her featherweight belt against Canadian challenger Felicia Spencer. UFC 250 initially was scheduled for May 9 in Nunes’ native Brazil, but was postponed and eventually moved.

White said the events in Jacksonville included more than 1,110 processed tests for COVID-19. Veteran fighter Jacare Souza and two of his cornermen tested positive before the first event in Florida, but no other positive tests were reported.