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Nishi: It’s an honour to play with Iniesta


Kobe: Daigo Nishi has admitted that it’s an honour to play alongside Spain’s FIFA World Cup winner Andres Iniesta as Vissel Kobe prepare to resume their 2020 AFC Champions League campaign in Qatar later this month. 

Vissel generated global headlines in 2018 when they lured the Barcelona legend and four-time UEFA Champions League winner to the J1 League, before they acquired Nishi from domestic rivals Kashima Antlers ahead of the 2019 season.

A year later and the pair both starred as Vissel defeated Kashima 2-0 to win their first major piece of silverware and secure a place in the AFC Champions League for the first time in their history.

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“There isn’t much I can say about Andres Iniesta that hasn’t already been said, all I can say is that it’s an honour to play in the same team as him,” Nishi told the-AFC.com.

“Of course his quality really helps our team but it will also be interesting [in Qatar] to see how other teams react to his presence.”

The Japanese side made a perfect start to their maiden Continental campaign earlier in the year, posting a 5-1 win at home to Johor Darul Ta’zim and claiming a late 1-0 victory at Suwon Samsung Bluewings with Iniesta’s world-class ability on display from the off, although the result against JDT has since been deemed null and void after the Malaysian side's withdrawal.

However, since football resumed in Japan following the COVID-19 enforced postponement, the side’s domestic form has been inconsistent at best as they currently languish in the bottom half of the J1 League table.

Head coach Torsten Fink departed in September and has since been replaced by Atsuhiro Miura, who will hope the resumption of AFC Champions League action can help spark a return to form of a team that started the year so promisingly but have faded as it has gone on.

“We are not doing very well as a team at the moment but, having said that, I see potential in a tournament like this that will be played over a short period of time,” admitted the 33-year-old.

“It’s hard to say whether we can pick up where we left off [in the AFC Champions League] but the first match will be very important to help us build our confidence and then we can take it from there.

“I think we are still a long way from where we need to be; however, if we can get some momentum on our side then there is a strong chance we can advance.

“It’s going to be an interesting situation in Qatar as all the teams are in the same boat. As a team we don’t have much experience playing overseas but I’m very much looking forward to it.”

While Vissel may not be able to point to much experience overseas, their regular first-choice right-back boasts plenty from his eight years with Kashima and, indeed, Iniesta is not the only player within their ranks who can claim to be a Continental champion.

Arguably Nishi’s most memorable moment with Kashima came in 2018 when he was part of a backline that kept a clean sheet in front of 100,000 spectators at Tehran’s Azadi Stadium to secure a 0-0 draw against Persepolis in the second leg of the final as the Ibaraki club claimed a 2-0 aggregate victory to win the AFC Champions League.

It was a win that capped an excellent campaign for the Sapporo native, who had also weighed in with crucial goals in the Round of 16 and semi-finals en route to a match-up with the Iranians.

And should Vissel repeat the feat of Nishi’s former side by advancing all the way to the final on December 19, Persepolis would await once more after they progressed from the West Asia section of the draw.

“I feel fortunate to have the opportunity to play in this competition again after changing clubs,” added Nishi.

“It’s a similar situation to 2018 but in order to reach the final we have to improve, although if we get there I’m sure it would be a great game and, of course, I already know how great a team Persepolis are. But our focus needs to be on the first match and from there we take it game by game.”

Vissel will resume their AFC Champions League campaign on November 25 against Guangzhou Evergrande, who they will meet again three days later before the return meeting with Suwon on December 4.

Photos: Vissel Kobe, J.League

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