Spanish legend Andres Iniesta’s Japanese debut ended on a flat note Sunday as Vissel Kobe crashed to an embarrassing 3-0 home defeat by J-League strugglers Shonan Bellmare.
The former Barcelona playmaker came off the bench after 58 minutes with Kobe already trailing by two goals and, despite one or two trademark flicks, failed to inspire a comeback in front of a crowd of 26,000.
Expectant fans, many of them clutching Spain flags, were disappointed to learn that Iniesta had been named among the substitutes for his first game since joining Kobe in the summer.
The 34-year-old’s first touch was a silky turn on the halfway line, releasing teammate Takuya Yasui, who promptly gave the ball straight to an opponent, underlining the gulf in class between the J-League and La Liga.
Visiting Bellmare, who began the day two spots above the relegation zone, had clearly not read the script as goals from Keisuke Saka and Mitsuki Saito gave them a two-goal lead.
Iniesta, who has reportedly signed a three-year deal on a J-League record annual salary of $30 million, watched helplessly as Bellmare went 3-0 up thanks to a Shunsuke Kikuchi tap-in 10 minutes after the Spaniard joined the fray.
The 2010 World Cup winner had fans off their seats late on when he blazed a left-foot volley wide, but ultimately there was little he could do to prevent Kobe slipping to their sixth J-League defeat of the season.
“It’s a shame we lost because I don’t like losing,” Iniesta told reporters.
“But this is just the first step of an amazing new adventure. It was a physical game that showed the quality of the J-League.”