Japan cancel friendly, hope for NZ game
Japan today cancelled a home friendly match against Montenegro scheduled for next week following the massive earthquake and tsunami that struck the country's Pacific coast.
But the Japan Football Association said it hoped to keep alive another friendly next week against another quake-hit nation, New Zealand, by turning it into a charity event at a new venue unaffected by the disaster.
The Blue Samurai, who won a record fourth Asian Cup in January, had been due to play Montenegro in Shizuoka in central Japan on 25 March and New Zealand on 29 March at Tokyo's National Stadium.
"We have made the decision by taking into account such factors as the unfolding extent of enormous damage, fears over 'lifeline' necessities including electricity, confusion in public transportation and the safety of the stadiums and the visitors," the Japan Football Association said.
But the association said it was negotiating with New Zealand to stage their match on 29 March as planned but in Japan's second city Osaka, far away from the devastated coast where a nuclear emergency is unfolding at a damaged plant.
"We hope to play New Zealand, which like Japan has also suffered damage from a big earthquake," FA president Junji Ogura told Japanese media. New Zealand was ravaged by a killer earthquake last month, with Christchurch being hardest hit.
National football coach Alberto Zaccheroni said he wanted to use the match in Osaka to lift spirits. "I want to encourage people in the affected areas as much as possible," the 57-year-old Italian said in a message from Italy. "I want to use this event as my first step to assist the affected people in their reconstruction drive."
Japan captain and Wolfsburg midfielder Makoto Hasebe said he was willing to come home for the charity match. "We could unite as one and give full play to our potential at the World Cup and the Asian Cup because all of Japan cheered for us. I want to repay them," he said.
The 9.0-magnitude quake and monster tsunami waves on Friday devastated the coastal area northeast of Tokyo, and triggered a major emergency at the Fukushima No.1 nuclear power plant. The crisis at the power station, located 250 kilometres (160 miles) northeast of Tokyo, has forced operator Tokyo Electric Power Co. to institute rolling power cuts in several areas.
Many high-profile sporting events including J-League football matches and pre-season baseball games have been called off in the aftermath of the disasters. Two AFC Champions League games this week, involving J-League sides Kashima Antlers and Nagoya Grampus, were also cancelled.
The J-League, which called off the season's second round matches at the weekend, has decided to shut the league's first and second divisions for the rest of the month, with an extension of that suspension seen as likely.