Iniesta Bids Emotional Farewell to Kobe Fans after Final Match

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Andres Iniesta, center, is surrounded by fans in the stands after playing his final game for Vissel Kobe on Saturday in Kobe.

KOBE — Spanish superstar Andres Iniesta played his final game for Vissel Kobe on Saturday night, then bid an emotional farewell to the season-high crowd of 27,630 at Noevir Stadium Kobe.

“I don’t like the word ‘goodbye,’” Iniesta told the crowd in a post-match ceremony. “Let’s meet again, those are the words to leave by.”

The 39-year-old Iniesta, who led the Kansai club to its major title when it won the Emperor’s Cup in 2019, was in the starting lineup for the match against Hokkaido Consadole, which ended in a 1-1 draw. It was his first start in a first-division match since August last year.

At the post-match ceremony, Iniesta, a key member of Spain’s 2010 World Cup-winning team, was presented with a bouquet from his family as he brought his five-year stint in Kobe to an end.

“I left my home, and while one is far away, normally they do not have the feeling of being at home. But we were able to feel that here,” a tearful Iniesta said.

With his five children looking on, Iniesta helped launch several attacks on the Consadole goal, but was not on the field when Matheus Thuler scored the equalizer in the 85th minute. Iniesta came off for a substitute in the 57th minute to a standing ovation and thunderous applause from the crowd.

After the match, Iniesta went into the stands behind the goal and exchanged hugs with Vissel fans.

“You provide the motivation for the team,” Iniesta said. “Without your strength, the team can not move forward.”