Spanish great Andres Iniesta played his final game for Vissel Kobe on Saturday, making his first J-League top-flight start this season and coming off to a standing ovation before the home side salvaged a 1-1 draw with Consadole Sapporo.

Limited to just 38 prior minutes of league action this term, the former Barcelona star and 2010 World Cup winner captained Kobe at Noevir Stadium in the 114th and last game of his five-year stint in J1.

Spanish great Andres Iniesta (C) plays in a J-League first division match against Consadole Sapporo at Noevir Stadium in Kobe, western Japan, on July 1, 2023, in his final appearance for Vissel Kobe. (Kyodo) ==Kyodo

"The day to say goodbye has come, but I don't like the word. See you again, we'll be coming back to Japan and this is our home," said Iniesta during the post-match ceremony.

"I hope the fans keep supporting the team because we'll need it in the second half of the season. The team is having a great season, and I'll be sending my energy to them from far away too."

With former Vissel man and current Celtic star Kyogo Furuhashi among the crowd, Iniesta did not see much of the ball in the opening stages as the match's first chance fell to Kobe forward Jean Patric, whose 18th-minute effort from an angle was saved by Sapporo keeper Takanori Sugeno.

At the other end, Yuya Asano's powerful drive was denied by Daiya Maekawa moments before Sapporo, the side with the most J1 goals this term, took the lead in the 26th minute.

Spanish great Andres Iniesta (8) plays in a J-League first division match against Consadole Sapporo at Noevir Stadium in Kobe, western Japan, on July 1, 2023, in his final appearance for Vissel Kobe. (Kyodo) ==Kyodo

Takuro Kaneko's cross from the right was punched away by a diving Maekawa but only as far as Thailand midfielder Supachok Sarachat, who made no mistake as he steered home from close range.

Iniesta showed his renowned skillset, first with a floated pass down the touchline for Gotoku Sakai. It sparked the 39-year-old star into action, with his free-kick delivery and touches in and around the box causing Sapporo trouble.

Kobe missed the chance to go into the break on level terms when Patric could not connect with Kota Yuruki's low cross.

Former Japan forward Yuya Osako entered the fray and the home side had a great opportunity to level six minutes into the second half, only to see close-range shots from Patric and Yoshinori Muto both denied by desperate Sapporo defense.

Asano tested Maekawa immediately at the other end before No. 8 was put up on Kobe's substitute board in the 57th minute, signaling the end of Iniesta's time at the club, which included 21 J1 goals.

Maekawa scrambled the ball off the goal line after Asano's scuffed effort seemed headed for Sapporo's second in the 65th minute, while Osako's swinging header off Muto's cross went just wide in the 74th minute before Kobe's resilience finally paid off when Matheus Thuler's 85th-minute header found the net from a corner.

Daihachi Okamura's diving header hit the bar in stoppage time as Sapporo kept probing to no avail, settling for a draw that moved them up to 27 points.

Spanish great Andres Iniesta acknowledges the crowd after playing in a J-League first division match against Consadole Sapporo at Noevir Stadium in Kobe, western Japan, on July 1, 2023, in his final appearance for Vissel Kobe. (Kyodo) ==Kyodo

Kobe dropped to third as Nagoya Grampus won 2-0 at home against Kawasaki Frontale to move up to second on 38 points, one point ahead of Vissel, who have a game in hand.

Urawa Reds came from behind to win 2-1 at Sagan Tosu, moving a point behind Kobe. Albirex Niigata beat Sanfrecce Hiroshima 2-0 at home, while Kashima Antlers were held to a goalless draw at home against Kyoto Sanga.

FC Tokyo edged Kashiwa Reysol 1-0 at home, while Yokohama FC and Gamba Osaka played out a 0-0 draw.


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