Football: Japan stars return from Europe for quake charity

TOKYO, March 19, 2011 (AFP) - 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 Saturday.

The Japan Football Association said it also expected four others, including World Cup star and CSKA Moscow midfielder Keisuke Honda, to be released for the March 29 event in Osaka between the Blue Samurai and a J-League select squad.

Japan coach Alberto Zaccheroni in an earlier message said he hoped that the all-star match will "help the whole of Japan take the first step toward its reconstruction."

"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 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 World Cup last year -- have shown sympathy for the victims of the March 11 quake.

The 9.0-magnitude tremor, which triggered a monster 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 crippled nuclear facility, for March 29, 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)

Defenders: Yuto Nagatomo (Inter Milan/ITA), Tomoaki Makino (Cologne/GER), Maya Yoshida (VVV Venlo/NED)

Midfielders: Yuki Abe (Leicester City/ENG), Makoto Hasebe (Wolfsburg/GER)

Attackers: Daisuke Matsui (Grenoble/FRA), Akihiro Ienaga (Mallorca/ESP)

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