Japan stars return for charity match
European clubs have freed up eight Japanese players for a charity match aimed at raising funds and lifting spirits in the earthquake-devastated nation, football officials said today.
The Japan Football Association said it also expected four others, including FIFA World Cup™ star and CSKA Moscow midfielder Keisuke Honda, to be released for the 29 March event in Osaka between the Blue Samurai and a J-League select squad.
"This match may be held in an unusual setting but we will fight all-out as always by keeping our motivation high," said the former AC Milan boss who guided Japan to a record fourth AFC Asian Cup in January.
Inter Milan defender Yuto Nagatomo, and Wolfsburg midfielder and Japan captain Makoto Hasebe are among the eight confirmed to play for Japan. Honda, Schalke defender Atsuto Uchida, Stuttgart striker Shinji Okazaki and Augsburg midfielder Hajime Hosogai are awaiting approval from their clubs to go home.
European clubs - who have signed up an increasing number of Japanese players since the Blue Samurai reached the last-16 at the FIFA World Cup last year - have shown sympathy for the victims of the 11 March quake.
The 9.0-magnitude tremor, which triggered a tsunami, has left more than 18,600 people dead or missing and sparked an emergency at a nuclear power plant northeast of Tokyo.
Japan had originally planned a friendly with New Zealand in Tokyo, 250 kilometres (155 miles) from the affected nuclear facility, for 29 March, a FIFA-sanctioned international match day. But the All Whites have opted out due to safety worries even after the Japanese FA moved the venue 400 kilometres further away to Osaka.
Confirmed Japan squad:
Goalkeeper: Eiji Kawashima (Lierse/BEL)