It is now seven days since the huge earthquake and tsunami hit Japan. Some will say it is still too early to be thinking of football, but the Japan FA believes that a charity match between the Japan national team and a J-League XI can raise spirits – and funds – for those affected by the disaster.
‘We received many messages from our fans and supporters who commented that in these tough times the Japan national team should provide the people with courage and something positive,’ said Japan FA President Junji Ogura. ‘On the other hand, some people have expressed the concern that it may be too soon to hold a charity match. We have taken all these views into consideration and carefully thought this matter over, and have come to the conclusion that because this is a difficult moment, we will hold a charity match to support the victims in their recovery.’
At the time of writing the tally of people dead or missing stands at 17,000. A nuclear threat from the damaged Fukushima Daiichi plant has been rated at five on a seven-point international scale of atomic incidents. Freezing weather conditions are hampering rescue efforts and reducing the likelihood of finding trapped survivors.
Within hours of the disaster, the Japan FA announced its intentions to fulfil fixtures against Montenegro and New Zealand. The announcement seemed premature, and indeed was proven to be so.
Following cancellation of the Montenegro match, scheduled for 25 March, the Japan FA announced plans to make the friendly against New Zealand four days later a charity match. However, understandably, the New Zealand FA made the difficult decision not to take part. New Zealand, of course, suffered its own devastating earthquake just last month.
Junji Ogura said, ‘I received a phone call from the president of the New Zealand FA early in the afternoon, and could understand that it was a tough decision they had to make following lengthy discussions. We wanted to make the charity match for both countries, but I am grateful to them for their consideration.’
Instead, the JFA announced, the Japan national team will take on a J-League XI on 29 March, at the Nagai Stadium in Osaka. (The original match against New Zealand was due to be played at the National Stadium in Tokyo, but safety concerns and electricity cuts have forced a change of venue.)
As this match is not a FIFA A match between two different nations, it is obviously not a UFWC title match. However, we will still cover the game in support of the UFWC champions.
Junji Ogura added, ‘To the people in the rest of the world who are concerned about the situation in the quake-hit areas and have been offering us support and words of sympathy, we think it is important to broadcast the message that the Japanese people are fighting hard against their current difficulties.’
The JFA has published messages of support from previous coaches of the national team. Philippe Troussier said, ‘I would like to express my deep sympathy and condolences to all the victims, their families and all the people who are suffering. Please remember, that I am ready to offer that support for you.’
Brazilian legend Zico, who did so much to boost Japanese soccer, said, ‘To the Japanese people: I understand that this is a terrible situation, but please hang in there. If I can be of any help to the stricken areas, please do contact me for anything.’
The next scheduled FIFA A match for Japan is in Colombia on 2 July as invitees in the Copa America. Japan were also mooted to play a couple of friendlies in the run-up to that tournament, although they had not been officially announced. However, the current suspension of the J-League could mean that full national team games are put on hold until the league fixtures can be fulfilled.
Therefore we cannot be sure when the next UFWC title match will be played, or who Japan’s opponents will be. Few would want the nation to return to competitive football before a full recovery is well underway. In the meantime, all UFWC fans can support the Unofficial Football World Champions in their charity match, which we will bring further news of soon.
The Japan squad for the charity match is:
Goalkeepers: Eiji Kawashima (Lierse SK), Masaki Higashiguchi (Albirex Niigata), Shusaku Nishikawa (Sanfrecce Hiroshima)
Defenders: Daiki Iwamasa (Kashima Antlers), Yasuyuki Konno (FC Tokyo), Yuzo Kurihara (Yokohama F. Marinos), Masahiko Inoha (Kashima Antlers), Ryota Moriwaki (Sanfrecce Hiroshima), Yuto Nagatomo (Inter Milan), Tomoaki Kajino (1FC Koln), Atsuto Uchida (FC Shalke 04), Maya Yoshida (VVV Venlo)
Midfielders: Yasuhito Endo (Gamba Osaka), Yuki Abe (Leicester City), Makoto Hasebe (VfL Wolfsburg), Takuya Honda (Kashima Anlters), Hajime Hosogai (Augsburg), Yosuke Kashiwagi (Urawa Reds)
Forwards: Daisuke Matsui (Grenoble), Ryoichi Maeda (Jubilo Iwata), Jungo Fujimoto (Nagoya Grampus), Tadanari Lee (Sanfrecce Hiroshima), Shinji Okazaki (VfB Stuttgart), Akihiro Ienaga (RCD Mallorca), Keisuke Honda (CSKA Moscow), Takashi Inui (Cerezo Osaka)
As we have mentioned in previous posts, you can find information on how to help those in need in Japan and elsewhere from the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.