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Wednesday, March 30, 2011

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Spirited support: Soccer fans cheer for the Japan national team and J. League select squad during Tuesday's charity match at Osaka's Nagai Stadium. KYODO PHOTO

National team defeats J. League select squad in fundraiser match

OSAKA (Kyodo) Asian champion Japan beat a J. League select team 2-1 in a charity match on Tuesday night, the nation's first major prime time sporting event since the earthquake and tsunami of March 11.

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Thrilling the fans: Kazu Miura of the J. League select team scores an 82nd-minute goal past Japan's Masaaki Higashiguchi at Nagai Stadium on Tuesday night. KYODO PHOTO

Yasuhito Endo and Shinji Okazaki netted in the opening half for Alberto Zaccheroni's side, and 44-year-old Kazu Miura pulled one back for the Dragan Stojkovic-coached J. League team after halftime in an emotional affair dedicated to the victims of the devastation in eastern Japan.

"The pitch was brimming with players with great technical quality and they put on a great game," said Zaccheroni.

"But more than the game it was about everyone gathered here showing solidarity for the Japanese soccer world and the country as a whole. It was important that we could do something. I hope for a swift recovery for the disaster-affected areas."

Fans were lining up outside the stadium as early as the previous afternoon for a game that sold out in less than an hour.

As of Tuesday, more than 28,000 were dead or unaccounted for by the National Police Agency as a result of the largest quake ever recorded in Japan.

The national anthem was sung by pop singer Mai Kuraki, followed by a moment of silence observed by the sellout crowd of 40,613 at Nagai Stadium.

Ahead of kickoff, the two captains addressed the crowd over the loudspeakers.

"Every time we step on to the pitch, we do it with the support of you fans," Japan skipper Makoto Hasebe said. "Now, with the help of people from all around the world, it's our turn to support you."

Said the J. League's Yuji Nakazawa, "We will fight to the end today, we will never give up. There are no obstacles that cannot be overcome."

Zaccheroni's side went ahead in the 15th minute through the spectacular set piece work of Endo, who, from 20 meters out, curled around the wall to tuck in the first goal by the right post.

Endo and the Japan XI raced over to the dugout, as the players raised their armbands.

Japan led 2-0 four minutes later as Okazaki latched on to a through ball to beat goalkeeper and reigning J. League MVP Seigo Narazaki.

Yet the biggest cheers of the evening went to Miura, who came on in the second half to flash a little bit of his old form in the 82nd minute.

Marcus Tulio Tanaka headed down a high ball for the Yokohama FC man before the former Japan striker hit past 'keeper Masaaki Higashiguchi with brilliance.

"That game was more than one game," said Stojkovic. "I think that the Japanese football family gave a really big heart to the people of Japan."

"In this difficult moment I think for the Japanese people who suffered a lot after the earthquake and tsunami our obligation was to play tonight's game for them and they have to remember one thing: they will never be alone, we will always be with them."

U-22s top Uzbeks

TASHKENT (Kyodo) Japan's Under-22s gave the quake-hit nation a lift Tuesday with a 2-1 win away to their Uzbek counterparts in the second of a two-game series here.

Two first-half goals in quick succession from Omiya Ardija midfielder Keigo Higashi and Nagoya Grampus' rookie striker Kensuke Nagai secured victory as Takashi Sekizuka's side split the series following a 1-0 defeat on Saturday.

The team will return to Japan on Thursday.



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