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Andres Iniesta announces international retirement from Spain

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Not a surprise, but still incredibly sad.

After Spain was eliminated by hosts Russia on penalties, Andres Iniesta announced his retirement from international soccer. El Cerebro retires at 34 years of age with 131 caps to his name. He finishes his international career with 13 goals and 27 assists for Spain, and he owns one World Cup and two European titles.

“This was my last game for Spain,” Iniesta told Radio Estadio after the match. “A marvelous spell is over. Sometimes the end is not as you dreamed it.”

Iniesta also concluded a 22-year career at Barcelona this summer, signing a 2-year deal with Japanese club Vissel Kobe.

Against Russia, Iniesta began the match on the bench, the first time he had not started a match for Spain in either the World Cup or European Championship since 2010. He came on in the 67th minute to replace the ineffective David Silva, and while he created three chances for Spain, he was unable to help his country find a winning goal. He scored the team’s first penalty in the shootout, which Spain ultimately lost on a pair of saves by Igor Akinfeev.

Spain draw Morocco, win Group B in dizzying final five minutes

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Spain survived a near-disaster scenario, which could have seen them eliminated from the 2018 World Cup (pending result elsewhere), but still struggled en route to a 2-2 draw with Morocco in Kaliningrad, Russia, on Monday.

From start to finish, it was a muddled mess of a performance for Fernando Hierro’s side. And yet, rather than facing Uruguay, who clinched Group A with a 3-0 victory over Russia earlier in the day, Fernando Hierro’s side finishes top of Group B (based on goals scored) and will face the hosts in the round of 16. More importantly, they’ll (likely) avoid the likes of Brazil, France and Germany in their half of the knockout bracket.

[ SCENARIOS: Who needs what, to finish where, in final round of group games ]

Khalid Boutaib, Isco, Youssef En-Nesyri and Iago Aspas scored the goals, in that order, as Spain scraped their way to a 1W-2D-0L record in the group stage.

The scoring opened in perhaps the most unlikely way imaginable: a giveaway by Andres Iniesta, though plenty of blame could be given to Sergio Ramos as well, and an easy breakaway for Boutaib, who raced in on goal and slid the ball between David De Gea‘s legs to make it 1-0 (WATCH HERE).

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ]

Morocco’s lead didn’t last long, though, as Iniesta atoned for his earlier error, with a little help of some silky operators wearing red. A quick passing sequence down the left side of the penalty area freed Iniesta to play the simple, but perfectly timed, ball to Isco for a close-range finish. (WATCH HERE)

 Click here for live and on demand coverage of the World Cup online and via the NBC Sports App.

The second half’s first great scoring chance came in the 55th minute, and it nearly put Spain behind again. Nordin Amrabat unleashed a powerful, right-footed strike from the corner of the penalty area, leaving De Gea completely helpless in goal, but the Watford man was denied by the 90-degree angle where the crossbar meets post. Another wake-up call for the 2010 World Cup winners, but a massive let-off in the end.

[ LIVE: World Cup scores ]

En-Nesyri headed home the would-be winner from Faycal Fajr’s corner kick in the 81st minute, seconds after Gerard Pique was perhaps suspected of having committed a handball offense inside the penalty area.

It wasn’t the last bit of drama, though, as Aspas flicked home the equalizer in the 90th minute. He was initially ruled offside by the assistant referee, but a video review indicated he was perfectly level when the ball was crossed into the box.

Iniesta joins Japanese club Vissel Kobe

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TOKYO (AP) Former Barcelona playmaker Andres Iniesta was introduced as the newest member of Japanese club Vissel Kobe on Thursday, a poorly kept secret that’s been rumored for weeks.

Iniesta appeared before a packed news conference at a central Tokyo hotel on Thursday along with Kobe’s billionaire owner, Hiroshi Mikitani.

[READ: Earnie Stewart being considered for U.S. Soccer post]

“I’m pleased to announce,” Mikitani said, “that Andres Iniesta will be signing up play with Vissel Kobe after his historic career at Barcelona.”

Iniesta signed his contract as Mikitani watched, and then spoke through an interpreter.

Terms of the contract were not disclosed, but Japanese media are reporting he will earn $30 million annually on a three-year deal.

“For me this is a very special day,” the Spaniard said. “This is an important challenge for me. My family is excited to come to Japan and we are very pleased. There were many offers. Other clubs showed interest. But I decided to sign with Vissel Kobe because the project presented to me was impressive.”

Mikitani is also the CEO of Barcelona sponsor Rakuten, a Japanese online retailer.

Iniesta held up the team’s red shirt with his famous No. 8 on the back, and his name written across the bottom.

Iniesta previously had said he would probably retire from international soccer after Spain plays at this year’s World Cup in Russia.

The 34-year-old Iniesta scored the winning goal for Spain in the 2010 World Cup final. He also was a key part of Spain’s two European Championships in 2008 and 2012.

He announced last month he would leave Barcelona after 16 seasons. His last match for the Spanish club was on Sunday against Real Sociedad at Camp Nou.

Vissel Kobe is in sixth place after 15 games in the J-League. It signed Lukas Podolski last year, but the German striker is out until the end of June with an injured calf.

VIDEO: Coutinho scores brilliant curler; Iniesta walks off

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It’s often funny to read the A. in front of Andres Iniesta’s surname on his match jersey, as if there’s any other.

On Sunday, the 34-year-old midfielder walked off the field for the last time (video at bottom) as a Barcelona player, handing the captain’s arm band to Lionel Messi and beginning a new era for both the club and player.

[ MORE: Bayern salutes Heynckes (again) ]

Barcelona beat Real Sociedad 1-0 on Sunday in the final La Liga match of the season.

While the match will be remembered as Iniesta’s last with Blaugranas, Philippe Coutinho gave a glimpse of the future with his eighth goal of the season and sixth in his last five games.

Barca finishes a 1-loss season with 99 goals and a 14-point lead over La Liga runners-up Atletico Madrid.

Report: Andres Iniesta to sign 3-year deal with Japanese club

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Barcelona living legend Andres Iniesta will take his talents and his tastes to Japan.

Cadena Sur reports that Iniesta, who turns 34 on Saturday, is going to join Vissel Kobe on a three-year deal which will pay around $30 million per year.

[ MORE: John Terry could return next year ]

Why Japan? The club has reportedly decided to help Iniesta develop his wineries.

Yep.

This comes on the same day that Chinese Super League club Chongqing Dangdai Lifan said Iniesta would not be playing for the club despite reports to the contrary.

Iniesta has played 672 times for Barcelona, scoring 57 goals and adding 141 assists while collecting nine La Liga championships, six Copa Del Rey crowns, and four UEFA Champions League titles.