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As in Tokyo last Sunday, Rakuten held a reception on Wednesday evening to welcome FC Barcelona to Kobe. The event at the same Portopia Hotel where the team are staying was attended by the whole squad, who had only just arrived in the city for the second leg of their Japanese tour.
The president and CEO of Rakuten, Hiroshi Mikitani, gave a speech in which he highlighted the wonderful relationship between the cities of Kobe and Barcelona. Barça president Josep Maria Bartomeu and club ambassador Juliano Belletti also had a few words to say before handing over to the main attraction: the players.
Also present, and naturally on the receiving end of a hearty ovation, were Vissel Kobe stars and former Barça men Andrés Iniesta, David Villa and Sergi Samper.
“It’s been a very happy year for me” said Iniesta. “Everyone has treated me very well and it was very special to be made captain of Vissel Kobe.”
Villa spoke kindly about what a friendly club Vissel is, and Samper said he had been surprised by how loyal and respectful the fans are.
The three Barça captains on this tour, who had just completed their first training session in Kobe, also had plenty to tell the press:
Josep Maria Bartomeu, president of FC Barcelona
"We are proud to be here and playing in the Rakuten Cup. I would like to thank Rakuten for all the work they have put into this and for the work they will be doing on Saturday too."
"We have been hoping to come to Japan for some time. We have excellent relations in this country, not just with Rakuten, but also with Nikken Sekkei, the studio that designed the Espai Barça"
Juliano Belletti, former players and current ambassador for FC Barcelona
"I am very happy to be here. Brazilians all love Japan, and we love the food here too."
"I have wonderful memories of Japan. I was with the Brazil team when we won made history by winning the World Cup here in 2002."
Sergio Busquets, FC Barcelona second captain
"I hope the fans enjoy the game. For us, it is a pleasure to be here."
"We are preparing for the season, especially fitness-wise. We want to win, even though it is just a preseason friendly."
Gerard Piqué, FC Barcelona third captain
"Vissel are a great team and it will be hard to beat them. We want to win to boost our confidence."
"They’re very good with their feet and we’ll need to put them under pressure. Ball-chasing is not our style."
Sergi Roberto, FC Barcelona fourth captain
"We are really looking forward to playing against Iniesta, Samper and Villa. Let’s hope it’s a great game."
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