Japan’s Vissel Kobe Win J.League Title Five Months after Iniesta’s Exit

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Vissel Kobe players celebrate after winning their first J.League title on Saturday.

KOBE (AFP-Jiji) — Japan’s Vissel Kobe won their first J.League title on Saturday, almost five months after Spanish legend Andres Iniesta left the club.

Kobe beat Nagoya Grampus 2-1 to clinch the championship with a game to spare after nearest challengers Yokohama F. Marinos could only draw the previous day.

Iniesta joined Kobe in 2018 after making more than 600 appearances for Barcelona, where he won the Champions League four times and claimed nine La Liga titles.

The 39-year-old World Cup winner left the club in July after being used sparingly this season and later joined UAE side Emirates FC.

Defending champions Yokohama’s draw meant Vissel could clinch the title with a win over Nagoya, and they took control with two goals in the opening 14 minutes.

Coach Takayuki Yoshida said that his team had been “growing every day” this season.

“After every game I show the players the video and tell them ‘this was wrong, this is how we should be doing it’, and make adjustments every time,” he said.

“This is the result of all the work we have done game by game and I’m proud of all my players and staff.”

Kobe were embroiled in a relegation battle last season and fired a succession of coaches before eventually finishing 13th in the 18-team division.

Their fortunes dramatically improved when Yoshida benched Iniesta at the start of this season.

The Spanish star made only four appearances before leaving with Kobe third in the table.

His former Spain teammate Juan Mata joined the club in September but he has so far made only one appearance.

Haruya Ide and former Newcastle striker Yoshinori Muto scored the goals as Kobe sealed the deal against Nagoya in front of a jubilant home crowd.

“I’ve never experienced this kind of happiness before,” said Kobe captain Hotaru Yamaguchi.

“The emotion started to come out about five minutes before the final whistle. I’m just so happy.”

Kobe won Japan’s domestic Emperor’s Cup with Iniesta in 2019 and reached the semi-finals of the Asian Champions League a year later.

Iniesta played alongside former Spain teammate David Villa and German World Cup winner Lukas Podolski at Kobe, who are owned by tech billionaire Hiroshi Mikitani, one of Japan’s richest men.