Monday 23 July 2012

Del Piero stars in Team As One charity match



Alessandro del Piero was the undisputed star of Saturday night’s J. League Special Match at Kashima Stadium, which pitted a J. League Select XI against a Team As One side consisting of players from Kashima Antlers and Vegalta Sendai – the clubs hit most directly by last year’s earthquake and tsunami – as well as others born in the affected Tohoku region.

In front of over 23,000 spectators, including 131 elementary school children invited from the stricken prefectures of Iwate, Miyagi, and Fukushima, Vegalta midfielder Ryang Yong-Gi took advantage of a mistake by Yuichi Komano to fire Team As One in front ten minutes before the interval.

But the moment everyone had hoped for came midway through the second half, when the former Juventus trequartista collected the ball from Daigo Nishi and casually fired a low shot past the unsighted Takanori Sugeno from around 25 yards out.

Sendai forward Shingo Akamine scored with a diving header almost immediately after the restart, before clubmate Yoshiaki Ota netted late on to complete a 4-0 victory for Team As One. The scoreline, however, mattered little on an evening set aside to remember the victims of last year’s tragedy and underline Japanese football’s continuing commitment to the recovery effort.

Del Piero was quoted by The Daily Yomiuri after the game as saying, “It was important to be here to give courage and strength not only to the north [of Japan] but to the whole country and its people, who have always supported me and always made me feel loved. So, the first thing I want to say is thank you, and the second is that I hope to come back soon, as I really like your country.”

Makoto Teguramori, the Vegalta manager who took charge of Team As One for this game, added “As players and club representatives from the affected region, we felt this was a game that we had to win... together with the J. League Select XI, I think we have been able to bring the joys of football to those affected by the disaster.”

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Meanwhile, the Japanese men’s U-23 team will go into Thursday’s Olympic Games opener against Spain full of confidence after beating Mexico 2-1 in their final warm-up match at the City Ground in Nottingham.

Takashi Sekizuka’s side got off to a perfect start when a mistake by Hector Herrera allowed them to break forward and score within the opening minute. Hiroshi Kiyotake played the ball to Kensuke Nagai, who burst down the right flank and squared across the six-yard box for Keigo Higashi to net at the far post.

This year’s Toulon Tournament champions quickly fought back to control proceedings on the front foot thereafter, finally equalising six minutes before half time with a powerful shot from 25 yards by Marco Fabian.

But Japan defended solidly throughout – as they will have to against Spain – and found a dramatic winner on 87 minutes when Yuki Otsu of Borussia Mönchengladbach spectacularly volleyed home on the bounce from just outside the Mexico penalty area.

There was no such encouragement for the world champion women’s team, however, as they were beaten 2-0 away to France in their last warm-up on Thursday. Nadeshiko Japan will face Canada in their Olympic opener this Wednesday.


TALKING POINTS
- Shinji Kagawa made a brief cameo at the very end of Manchester United’s 1-0 friendly win over AmaZulu last Wednesday, before starting and generally performing well in Saturday’s 1-1 draw with Ajax Cape Town.
- JEF United Chiba lost 1-0 at home to Ventforet Kofu on Sunday evening and surrendered their lead at the top of J2 to Tokyo Verdy, who beat Roasso Kumamoto 2-0.


J. League Special Match result
J. League Team As One 4-0 J. League Select XI


J2 results (matchday 25)
Mito HollyHock 4-2 Avispa Fukuoka
Tokyo Verdy 2-0 Roasso Kumamoto
Yokohama FC 3-1 Gainare Tottori
Matsumoto Yamaga 3-0 Fagiano Okayama
Kataller Toyama 1-2 Tochigi SC
Oita Trinita 2-2 FC Gifu
Shonan Bellmare 0-0 Montedio Yamagata
Tokushima Vortis 1-1 Giravanz Kitakyushu
Thespa Kusatsu 1-1 Machida Zelvia
JEF United Chiba 0-1 Ventforet Kofu
Kyoto Sanga 2-1 Ehime FC

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