In 2019 the sporting world will shift its focus to Japan. The nation will host the Rugby World Cup, set to kick off in September. October will see the NBA make its return to the country with the NBA Japan Games 2019. And before that, Japan will play host to the Rakuten Cup in July. The competition will have UEFA Champions League contenders and current leaders of Spain’s La Liga, FC Barcelona, face-off against 2017 English Premier League Champions Chelsea FC and Vissel Kobe, challengers in Japan’s top J1 league.

Top contenders for most-anticipated storylines

For FC Barcelona, the stop is the Club’s first visit to the Land of the Rising Sun since 2015, and brings with it a number of compelling storylines alongside the promise of scintillating action on the pitch. Founded in 1905, six-time English league champions Chelsea FC is one of the world’s top football clubs and features some of the world’s most recognizable players.

Without further ado, here are the top three anticipated storylines for the Rakuten Cup:

1. Old friends face off: Former Barca legends Andres Iniesta and David Villa clash against their former teammates Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Gerard Pique.

2. Rising stars reunite: Vissel Kobe’s newest signing Sergi Samper faces off against Barca after his emotional departure from his boyhood club last month.

3. A piece of history: Beginning with the 2002 World Cup, Japan has witnessed some spectacular footballing moments. But it has probably never hosted a match between two professional European teams of this caliber. This will change at the Rakuten Cup when FC Barcelona and Chelsea FC face off in this historic tournament.

Twitter reacts to the announcement

But we aren’t the only ones excited about this unique competition — the teams and the players have also jumped in on the action:

Rising to the challenge

The tournament offers the European clubs an opportunity to reach and expand their fanbase in Japan and Asia, but it also presents Vissel Kobe — whose stated ambition is to become the No.1 club in Asia — a chance to test its mettle against top-tier global competition. While the Rakuten-owned club may not boast the same international accolades of its international rivals, its blend of experience, home country advantage and the adrenaline of the moment just might shock the world.

Building a legacy

The Rakuten Cup Supported by SCALP D kicks off just over 2 years since Rakuten and FC Barcelona began their global partnership in July 2017. Rakuten and the Spanish champions are collaborating on a variety of initiatives leveraging Rakuten’s technologies and a broad range of services to provide new experiences and innovative services to fans, members and players of the club. Rakuten is also a partner of the Barca Academy, the flagship FC Barcelona soccer school with branches in more than 20 countries around the world, three of which are in Japan. Through the initiative, Rakuten and Barca hope to empower, inspire and fulfill the dreams of young soccer players.

As Japan’s cherry trees shed the last of their famous blossoms, summer is just around the corner. When the Rakuten Cup arrives we have no doubt it will inspire young soccer players — and fans — throughout Japan, Asia and beyond.