• Reuters, Kyodo, staff report


Former Japan defender Gotoku Sakai has tested positive for COVID-19, his club Vissel Kobe confirmed Monday, making him the first known J. League player to have been infected.

According to Vissel, Sakai fell ill late Wednesday night with a fever of 38 degrees Celsius and was diagnosed with an acute upper respiratory infection at a hospital in Hyogo Prefecture the following day. His fever persisted, however, and he began to experience head and throat pain on Friday.

Sakai reported losing his sense of smell on Saturday and was advised to undergo a test for the new coronavirus. His test came back positive on Monday afternoon.

The 29-year-old defender, who joined Kobe from German side Hamburg last season, told fans in an Instagram post that he was feeling fine aside from the loss of his smell and taste.

"I had done my best as a professional to avoid crowds, use disinfectant, wash my hands and stay vigilant," wrote Sakai, "but it feels miserable to have (been infected). All I can do is inform others that (the virus) could be anywhere.

"I can only hope that the infection hasn't spread beyond me to others," continued Sakai, who retired from the Samurai Blue following the 2018 FIFA World Cup. "Fortunately I am living apart from my family and they are doing fine, but I ask that you respect our privacy at this time."

Kobe said no other player in the squad, which includes Spanish World Cup winner Andres Iniesta, had shown any symptoms.

"Currently, there is no other player or staff member showing symptoms of the new coronavirus other than Gotoku Sakai,” the club said in a statement.

"In correspondence with the instructions of the public health center, we are looking at identifying those in close contact and the complete sterilization of our training facilities.”

J. League first division matches are set to resume on May 9 after play was suspended in late February due to the outbreak. The league plans to release an updated season schedule next week.

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