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Ex-Barcelona star Iniesta vows to play on after surgery

Tokyo (AFP) – Former Barcelona star Andres Iniesta has promised his glittering career won’t be cut short by the thigh injury that has left him facing four months on the sidelines.

The World Cup-winning Spanish midfielder, 36, said he planned to be back for his Japanese club Vissel Kobe next season after undergoing surgery in Barcelona on a ruptured tendon.

Iniesta suffered the injury in the knockout stages of the Asian Champions League, where he helped Vissel reach the semi-finals before they were knocked out on Sunday.

“The surgery has been a success and I am feeling very well,” Iniesta said in a statement posted on Twitter, with a photo of himself giving the thumbs-up from his hospital bed.

“My objective is to get back on track as soon as possible and enjoy what I like doing the most.

“All my energy is already put into the recovery and the work that lies ahead.”

The Spanish maestro was injured and substituted during Vissel’s round-of-16 victory over China’s Shanghai SIPG in Doha, a match in which he scored.

He made a telling cameo appearance in the quarter-final against South Korea’s Suwon Bluewings, coming on as a 113th-minute substitute and scoring Vissel’s first penalty in a 7-6 shoot-out victory.

Iniesta clutched his thigh and grimaced immediately after slotting his kick past Suwon goalkeeper Yang Sang-min, and did not appear in Vissel’s 2-1 semi-final defeat by Ulsan Hyundai three days later.

Iniesta joined Vissel in 2018 after making 442 appearances for Barcelona, where he was the midfield dynamo in some of the club’s greatest ever teams.

Barcelona wished Iniesta a speedy recovery in a Twitter post on Wednesday, as did Spanish side Albacete, where Iniesta began his youth career.

Spanish basketball star Pau Gasol, a six-time NBA All-Star and winner of two Olympic silver medals with the Spanish national team, also sent a message of encouragement.

Vissel end their 2020 season on Saturday with their final J-League game against FC Tokyo. The 2021 J-League season starts with the curtain-raising Super Cup on February 20. 

Iniesta was a key part of the Barcelona side that won trebles in 2009 and 2015. He won nine La Liga crowns and four European Champions League titles, and scored the winner in the 2010 World Cup final in South Africa to give Spain its first ever title.

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