TOKYO – Spanish soccer stars David Villa and Andres Iniesta will team up again for Japanese club Vissel Kobe to play against Cerezo Osaka on Friday, kicking off this year’s Japanese soccer league.
Fernando Torres, a former Liverpool and Chelsea forward who won two European Championships and one World Cup while playing for Spain, has also been signed up by Sagan Tosu, and will be pitted against the former Barcelona captain, and Villa, a former Barça striker, who will debut at the league this year.
The three players, who are from a historic generation of Spanish soccer, will face off in the tournament, which also boasts of three Spanish coaches.
Villa, also known as “Guaje,” and Iniesta, along with Lukas Podolski on Friday, will play against Cerezo Osaka, which is coached by Spaniard Miguel Angel Lotina.
Vissel had signed Juan Manuel Lillo as their coach in September, in an attempt to improve the club’s performance, which had ended the last league in 10th position.
Ahead of a face-off in the next match between the teams of Lotino and Lillo, the latter recalled that the two were up against one another 27 years ago in the second division, when both were heading Logroñes and Cultural Leonesa respectively.
Lillo, who has also headed Real Sociedad, Mexican side Dorados, Colombia’s Millonarios and Atletico, added, during a press conference, that over the years, the two have competed against each other several times and share a great rapport.
Lotina told the media that Lillo was a very hard working coach and whose life revolves around soccer, and added that he encourages the teams he coaches to control the possession of the ball and give their best.
Iniesta also added that his team, which now also includes Villa, will try to bring in the characteristic style of play that helped Barcelona and the Spanish national team win major titles.
During the presentation of the J-League last week, Iniesta had said that he was now comfortable with his new team and they were looking to dominate the league by playing some great soccer.
Iniesta and Villa were signed by Hiroshi Mikitani, owner of Vissel, in an attempt to make his team the strongest one in Japan and the Asian continent.
Torres’ team Sagan Tosu is more modest in its approach and had also signed Spain’s Lluis Carreras as its coach.
Ahead of the current season, Sagan, which is to play against Nagoya Grampus on Friday, Torres said that his team will play to win.
The 2019 edition of the J-League is seen as the most promising one in the last decade in terms of investments from clubs in signing international players and coaches that has increased visibility of the tournament.
Apart from adding their star power to the league, the Spanish stars are also expected to attract bigger financial investments and improve the quality of soccer in the country.
Iniesta had said that the experiences of the Spanish players will contribute to the growth of the league and secure it global recognition.
Ninety foreign players are playing in the J-League this year, which is the highest number until now, owing to regulatory changes that allowed players from other Southeast Asian countries to play as Japanese nationals in the tournament.
Last year, the J-League had returned record revenues of 26,767 million Yen ($233.49 million), double from a year before, and registered an average attendance of 19,000 spectators, according to league data.