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Soccer: Ex-Japan defender Gotoku Sakai returns to J-League with Vissel

Gotoku Sakai of Hamburg reacts after the Second Bundesliga match between SC Paderborn 07 and Hamburger SV at Benteler Arena on May 12, 2019, in Paderborn, Germany. (Bongarts/Getty/Kyodo)

KOBE (Kyodo) -- Following more than 200 games in the German first and second divisions, former Japan defender Gotoku Sakai will return to the J-League with Vissel Kobe, the club said Wednesday.

    The 28-year-old right-back, a member of Japan's past two World Cup squads, joins Vissel on a full transfer from second-division Hamburger SV.

    Vissel, currently 15th in the 18-team J-League first-division, are hoping Sakai will help shore up one of the league's shakiest defenses.

    "I want to use the experience I gained in Germany to make a positive contribution to the team," said Sakai, who will wear No. 24 for Vissel.

    An Albirex Niigata youth product, Sakai played for the club in J1 before joining VfB Stuttgart in the Bundesliga in 2012. He moved to then first division HSV in 2015, going on to captain the club.

    Vissel have struggled to separate themselves from the bottom of the table this season despite a squad boasting former Spain stars Andres Iniesta and David Villa, as well as German World Cup winner Lukas Podolski.

    The club, owned by e-commerce giant Rakuten Inc., appointed former HSV boss Thorsten Fink as manager earlier this season and recently acquired Belgium center back Thomas Vermaelen.

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