Fans present in Bochum for Group B’s opening game between New Zealand and Japan were greeted before the match by the Japanese team holding a large banner on the pitch saying: ‘To our friends around the world: Thank you friends for your support.’
This is a campaign that was initiated by the Japan Football Association in response to the great support that Japan received from the global football family after the tragic earthquake and tsunami that struck Japan in March 2011.
FIFA President Joseph S. Blatter was one of the first people to send his support to the Japanese community on behalf of FIFA and the footballing world. As a token of appreciation, the JFA launched a website to post all the messages it received to acknowledge those who sent them help and also let the people who were affected by the tragedy know about the support they will receive.
Additionally the Japanese decided that the most visible way of thanking the people for their support would be to create banner and it was first used at a charity game in Osaka on 29 March.
Since then the banner has travelled the world with every Japanese team: Mexico for the FIFA U-17 World Cup, the USA for international friendlies and finally Germany for the FIFA Women’s World Cup, where it appeared for the first time during the match against New Zealand in Bochum.
When asked about it, the Japanese captain Homare Sawa said: "This whole campaign is a good opportunity for us to show our gratitude to the world. We have received so much support from around the world, and it is still on-going. I wish for the speedy recovery of Japan and for people to regain their normal life."
The Tohoku area was one of the worst affected areas by the tragedy and the team’s defender Azusa Iwashimizu who was born there also expressed her gratitude.
"Tohoku has received warm encouragement and support from so many countries.
The World Cup is one of our chances to show Japan's presence to the world in gratitude of their support. I also want to give a message of encouragement to the Japanese people through our play. I think more activities such as football events for kids should take place in the Tohoku area so that we can encourage them with football."