There have been amazing scenes in Osaka ahead of tomorrow’s Japan vs J-League XI charity match. Up to 12,000 people turned up at the Kincho Nagai Stadium yesterday to watch Alberto Zaccheroni’s side train, with the session delayed by 75 minutes due to a huge cash donation queue that snaked around the stadium. 2.5 million yen (£20,000) was raised at the training session alone.
The match is being played to benefit those affected by the devastating earthquake and tsunami that hit Japan on 11 March. The official tally of people dead and missing has today reached 28,000. But more than a money raising exercise, it is hoped that the match can raise the spirits of the nation, and demonstrate that life goes on.
It’s being referred to as the ‘Ganbare Nippon’ match, which roughly translates as ‘You Can Do It Japan’. You can read our preview of the match here. Just to reiterate, this game is not a UFWC title match, but we are covering it in support of the current champions.
Shinji Okazaki says he will play for the Japan team, despite suffering from gastroenteritis. The striker is back in Japan for the first time since his transfer to Stuttgart in January. Yuto Nagatomo has a virus, and Takuya Honda has a leg injury, but both hope to play.
The J-League ‘Team As One’ is coached by Dragan Stojkovic, manager of league champions Grampus Nagoya, and includes six former J-League players of the season, including the veteran Kazuyoshi Miura, still playing for Yokohama FC at the age of 44.
Meanwhile, it has been announced that the suspended J-League will resume on 23 April. Matches played in venues still affected by power shortages will be held during daylight hours. Games that have been postponed will be rearranged for July – throwing Japan’s participation as guests at the Copa America in Argentina into doubt. The next scheduled UFWC title match is Japan’s opening Copa America fixture, against Colombia on 2 July.
Junji Ogura, President of the Japan Football Association, said on 16 March that the Samurai Blue would participate in the Copa America. However, that was before the J-League suspension arrangements were announced. Much is likely to rest on the willingness of J-League clubs to release their players.
‘July is now a really difficult time for J-League clubs,’ said JFA technical director Hiromi Hara. ‘For the association we need to reach a decision as soon as possible.’
For now, Japan will concentrate on the charity match, which kicks off at 19:20 local time tomorrow, 11:20 BST. We’ll have a match report here shortly after the final whistle.