Friday, April 22, 2011

J. League set to return

They say a week is a long time in Football.

This is so because within those seven days, so much can change. Players can be injured or suspended and form can be lost, seemingly, in an instant.

In the week between the first round of the J. League and what was scheduled to be Round Two, a lot changed. The entire country changed.

Friday March 11 is a date that will live long in the memory of all Japanese people.

As J. League players across the country were readying themselves for a bumper weekend of J. League action, mother nature was readying herself to unleash all her fury.

47 days have passed since the completion of Round One and as J. League players across Japan ready themselves for action, they do so under vastly different circumstances to that of 46 days ago.

Kashima Antlers players are preparing for a home game – not in Ibaraki, but in Tokyo. Their stadium is still too badly damaged and will be out of action until, most likely, around June/July.

Vegalta Sendai prepare for an away game with Kawasaki Frontale without one of their big off-season signings – Marquinhos.

The Brazilian striker, signed from Kashima in the off-season, has left the club citing “emotional distress”, and after going through what he did in one of the hardest hit areas of the country, few can blame him.

It will be fascinating watching how Sendai respond. The team and the club now represent so much more than they did in the past – they’re now the flag bearers for a region still struggling to come to terms with what has happened. They represent life and hope in a region where those two things have been decimated by the disaster.

When the disaster struck, the Nagoya Grampus players were en route to Sendai for their round two clash with Vegalta. On Sunday they will again be on the road, this time visiting Saitama Stadium for what promises to be a classic encounter against Urawa Reds.

Nagoya, like many J. League clubs, have been busy raising much needed funds for the disaster relief. To date the club has raised over 15 million yen (AUD$180,000) through a collection among players and staff, as well as a charity match against Sanfrecce Hiroshima.

As they did in the ‘Team as One’ match, the players will be hoping their positive attitude will help those still struggling to recover.

"I wondered whether we should play football or not, but we are professional football players and supporters will come to see us play,” Nagoya's Yoshizumi Ogawa told

“I want to show them our positive attitude for them."

Across all games on the weekend players will wear black armbands and observe a moment’s silence as a tribute to the thousands who lost their lives in the disaster.

If a week is a long time in Football, then seven is an eternity, yet the events of March 11 still feel so recent. But while Football seemed so insignificant in the immediate aftermath of the disaster it now seems to have found its place, helping lead the way as a beacon of positivity.

Whatever the results on the weekend, the return of the J. League is a moment worth celebrating.

Kashima Antlers vs Yokohama F. Marinos
Omiya Ardija vs Kashiwa Reysol
Kawasaki Frontale vs Vegalta Sendai
Ventforet Kofe vs Vissel Kobe
Shimizu S-Pulse vs Avispa Fukuoka

Montedio Yamagata vs Cerezo Osaka
Albirex Niigata vs Jubilo Iwata
Sanfrecce Hiroshima vs Gamba Osaka
Urawa Reds vs Nagoya Grampus


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