Wednesday 23 March 2011

J. League on hold for another month as football community focuses on earthquake relief



12 days after the devastating Tohoku earthquake and tsunami, which claimed the lives of an estimated 21,000 people, the Japanese footballing community has joined the rest of the country in uniting to focus solely on providing aid and recovery.

With the regular J. League season on hold, Vissel Kobe were among a number of clubs to quickly arrange charity matches through which money could be raised to help victims of the disaster. A total of over 4.6 million yen was collected from supporters attending last Saturday’s friendly meeting with J2 newcomers Gainare Tottori.

Vissel will also make the short journey to Banpaku for a second charity match with Gamba Osaka this Sunday. Kyoto Sanga will host Cerezo Osaka in another Kansai derby 24 hours earlier, while Tottori welcome Sanfrecce Hiroshima, who also played a fundraising double-header with Avispa Fukuoka last weekend.

Despite having initially announced that Japan’s scheduled friendlies with Montenegro and New Zealand would go ahead as planned, the JFA were forced to retract their statement as it emerged that neither opponent would be making the journey after all.

Instead, a charity match has been hastily organised between the current national team and a J. League select XI given the moniker of ‘Team as One’. The game will take place at the Nagai Stadium in Osaka on Tuesday 29 March, with tickets on general sale from this morning.

The ‘Team as One’ squad was announced yesterday evening and includes several former international stars such as Shunsuke Nakamura, Shinji Ono, and 44-year-old Yokohama FC forward Kazuyoshi Miura. Alberto Zaccheroni will lead a largely full-strength Japan side consisting mostly of players that contributed to the Asian Cup success in Qatar this January.

Representatives of all J1 and J2 clubs – barring Vegalta Sendai, whose facilities sustained substantial damage during the earthquake – met in Tokyo yesterday to discuss the reorganisation of this season’s J. League calendar. After lengthy deliberation, it was finally announced that no domestic matches would be played until an official restart date of 23 April.

The five rounds of league fixtures postponed as a result of this decision will be rearranged for July, when the Japan national team are currently scheduled to take part in the Copa America in Argentina. The JFA will readdress the Samurai Blue’s involvement in the South American championship at a later date.

In addition, the group stage of the Yamazaki Nabisco Cup will be cancelled and replaced with a straight knockout tournament.

The J. League has confirmed that it will relax its rules on stadium requirements to allow teams in regions affected by the disaster to fulfil their league fixtures at other venues if necessary. Clubs such as Kashima Antlers and Montedio Yamagata expressed their determination to play as many matches as close to home as possible, despite having stated their preference for the season to be delayed slightly longer.

With damage to the national power grid and continued difficulties at the nuclear facility in Fukushima, all games will be switched to daytime kickoffs for the foreseeable future.

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Both Osaka clubs suffered narrow defeats in their AFC Champions League visits to China last week. Gamba were beaten 2-1 by Tianjin Teda, while Cerezo went down 2-0 to Shandong Luneng.


AFC Champions League group stage results (Eastern zone; matchday 2)
Group E
Melbourne Victory (AUS) 1-2 Jeju United (KOR)
Tianjin Teda (CHN) 2-1 Gamba Osaka (JPN)

Group F
Nagoya Grampus (JPN) P-P Al-Ain (UAE)
FC Seoul (KOR) 3-0 Hangzhou Greentown (CHN)

Group G
Shandong Luneng (CHN) 2-0 Cerezo Osaka (JPN)
Arema FC (IDN) 0-4 Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors (KOR)

Group H
Kashima Antlers (JPN) P-P Sydney FC (AUS)
Suwon Samsung Bluewings (KOR) 4-0 Shanghai Shenhua (CHN)


Donations to support relief efforts for the earthquake and tsunami in Japan are being accepted by the Red Cross and a number of other charities.

Japanese Red Cross Society: http://www.jrc.or.jp/
British Red Cross: http://www.redcross.org.uk/JapanTsunami
American Red Cross: http://american.redcross.org/site/PageServer?pagename=ntld_main&s_src=RSG000000000&s_subsrc=RCO_NewsArticle
Global Giving: http://www.globalgiving.org/projects/japan-earthquake-tsunami-relief/
UNICEF Japan: http://www.unicef.or.jp/

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