Andres Iniesta set to join five other big-name football stars who moved to Japan

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Lukas Podolski with Vissel Kobe.

If Andres Iniesta chooses Japan as his next destination, he won’t be the first football icon to do so.

Iniesta, 33, is set to leave Barcelona this summer after 22 years, more than 650 appearances and 32 major trophies.

The attacking midfielder, who struck Spain’s winning goal at the 2010 World Cup final, had been expected to join Chinese Super League’s Chongqing Dangdai Lifan. But the connection between Barca and sponsors Rakuten is set to see him land at mid-table Vissel Kobe on a monster three-year contract worth approximately €75 million (Dh327.1m) after tax, according to Cadena SER.

J1 League has attracted several of the sport’s biggest names throughout its history. Here are five of the best.

MICHAEL LAUDRUP

The path from an El Clasico giant to Kobe has been tread before. In 1996, Laudrup – an elegant attacking midfielder – swapped Real Madrid for a promotion fight in Japan.

The 32-year-old Denmark international arrived mid-season and ensured Stuart Baxter’s charges earned their berth in the top flight, with five goals in 12 games. Laudrup then hung around for three J League matches before winding down his celebrated career at Ajax in 1997/98.

FUSSBALL: WM FRANCE 98 Lens, 12.06.98

GARY LINEKER

One of England’s finest strikers chose Japan for the final years of his career.

A £2 million (Dh14.2m) fee was paid by ambitious Nagoya Grampus Eight to land Lineker, who headed east aged 31 after being controversially denied a chance to level Sir Bobby Charlton’s scoring record for his nation at Euro 92.

Injuries would stunt his impact during two seasons in J League, where he wound up with a disappointing four goals in 18 games.

UEFA Euro '92 Group 1 - Sweden v England

LUKAS PODOLSKI

After experiencing dwindling returns at Arsenal, Internazionale and Galatasaray, the 130-cap Germany forward chose to join Kobe for the 2017 season.

The 32-year-old could not lift Kobe beyond mid-table last term and the same theme is repeating in 2018 – Takayuki Yoshida’s men currently sit 10th in the table.

In all competitions thus far in Japan, Podolski has struck 10 times in 30 run-outs. Not a bad return on his €5 million-per-annum (Dh21.8m), three-year deal.

Vegalta Sendai v Vissel Kobe - Preseason Friendly

HRISTO STOICHKOV

The final years of the Bulgaria talisman’s celebrated career took him on a world tour.

From 1998’s return to CSKA Sofia until he hung up his boots at DC United in 2003, ‘El Pistolero’ took in five different clubs in four separate countries.

Stoichkov headed to Japan’s Kashiwa Reysol in the wake of a brief stop at Saudi Arabia’s Al Nassr.

At Reysol, the 32-year-old forward scored 13 times in 29 games.

MEXICO V BULGARIA

ZICO

When you earn the nickname ‘God of Football’ from an adoring Japanese public, it is no surprise to learn Zico’s time there was a resounding success.

One of the Brazil’s great attacking midfielders came out of retirement in 1991 aged 38 to join lower-league Sumitomo Metals. His dedication would turn them into J League contenders when named Kashima Antlers.

Zico would go on to manage Japan from 2002 until a disappointing 2006 World Cup campaign.

WORLD CUP-1986-FRA-BRAZIL

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Daily Digest: Serena Williams set to play in Rome and French Open while Ravindra Jadeja impresses for Chennai

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Hello everyone, it’s Denzil Pinto here giving you a bitesize look at what’s going on this afternoon.

TOP STORY

Venus Williams believes her sister Serena will be ready to compete in Rome and the French Open. Serena returned to the tour from maternity leave in March at the Indian Wells before losing in the third round. Read the full story here.

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FOOTBALL

Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp is confident his players can cope with the emotional effects of qualifying for the Champions League final. The Merseyside club take on Spanish giants and defending champions Real Madrid in Kiev on May 26. They face Chelsea first in the Premier League on Sunday and the German insists his side will be ready for the London side. Read the full story here.

In other news, Spanish champions Barcelona will take on the champions of South Africa, Mamelodi Sundowns, in a friendly on May 16 at FNB Stadium.

CRICKET

Former Australia vice-captain David Warner has spoken for the first time since his press conference following the ball-tampering scandal. The 31-year-old revealed he’s been humbled with the support he has received. Read more here.

Meanwhile, Ravindra Jadeja silenced his critics by taking three wickets for Chennai Super Kings against Royal Challengers Bangalore. Chennai have begun their chase of 128.

REGIONAL

Jiu-Jitsu is yet to make the Olympic Games but if the sport is accepted by the IOC, Adam Wardzinski, European athlete of the year at the Abu Dhabi World Jiu-Jitsu Awards, does not want any rules to be changed. Read more here.

FEATURE OF THE DAY

Chelsea and Liverpool face-off with top-four hopes on the line.

Chelsea and Liverpool face-off with top-four hopes on the line.

After reaching the Champions League final in midweek, Liverpool will turn their focus to the Premier League when they meet Chelsea on Sunday. Read Aditya Devavrat’s talking points of the match here.

SOCIAL MEDIA ROUND-UP

WHAT’S ON

IPL: Sunrisers Hyderabad v Delhi Daredevils 18:30

Premier League: Bournemouth v Swansea, Leicester v West Ham, Watford v Newcastle, West Brom v Tottenham (all 18:00), Everton v Southampton (20:30).

Serie A: Juventus v Bologna 22:45

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Daily Digest: Arsene Wenger defends Mesut Ozil after Arsenal's defeat to Atletico Madrid

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Good morning everyone, it’s Denzil Pinto here giving you a bitesize look at what’s going on today.

TOP STORY

Ozil

Arsene Wenger leapt to the defence of Mesut Ozil after the midfielder was criticised by former Gunners defender Martin Keown. It came after they were beaten 1-0 in the Europa League semi-final second leg and 2-1 on aggregate. Read the full story here.

Diego Costa scored the only goal of the game in the Spanish capital, who will now play Marseille in the final. Read our player ratings on Arsenal and Atletico Madrid.

FOOTBALL

In other news, Laurent Koscielny could be out of the World Cup after the Arsenal defender suffered a torn Achilles injury in the club’s 1-0 defeat to Atletico Madrid.

Neymar is set to fly back to Paris to continue his rehab ahead of the World Cup in Russia, according to French media.

CRICKET

In last night’s IPL encounter, Shubman Gill and Dinesh Karthik guided Kolkata Knight Riders to an impressive six-wicket victory against league leaders Chennai Super Kings. Gill scored a 36-ball 57, while Karthik hit an unbeaten 18-ball 45 in their chase of 178.

Meanwhile, Virat Kohli will play for Surrey in June after a deal was confirmed on Thursday night. The ace batsman will play six matches as he looks to get familiar with English conditions ahead of India’s tour this summer. Read it here.

REGIONAL

There was more reason to celebrate for Al Ain as they won the President’s Cup in their 2-1 victory against Al Wasl on Thursday night. Goals from Ismail Ahmed and Marcus Berg gave the Boss a 2-0 lead before Caio Canedo got a consolation. Read more here.

Diego Maradona’s managerial stint at Fujairah is over after the club confirmed talks with the Argentine legend has come to an end. Read the full story here.

FEATURE OF THE DAY

Lacazette

Our man Aditya Devavrat had a closer look at Alexandre Lacazette’s performance against Atletico Madrid. Find out what he thought of the Frenchman here.

SOCIAL MEDIA ROUND-UP

WHAT’S ON TODAY

IPL: Kings XI Punjab v Mumbai Indians, 18:30

Premier League: Brighton v Manchester United, 23:00

NBA playoffs: New Orleans v Golden State 04:30 (+1)

Utah v Houston 06:30 (+1)

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