Honda freed for Japan quake charity game
AFP, Sunday 20 Mar 2011
Japan's World Cup hero and CSKA Moscow midfielder Keisuke Honda will join the national team for a charity match to help the victims of the quake-tsunami tragedy

European clubs have released Honda and three other players for the match in Osaka on 29 March pitting the Blue Samurai against a J-League select side, the Japan Football Association said Sunday.

The number of Europe-based players in the 26-strong national squad has expanded to 12, including Inter Milan defender Yuto Nagatomo, Schalke defender Atsuto Uchida and Japan captain and Wolfsburg midfielder Makoto Hasebe.

"I could not sit still as I watched images of the disaster on television and the Internet every day," Grenoble midfielder Daisuke Matsui said Sunday as he arrived at Osaka airport.

"I want to play well and reach out to the victims through football," said the 29-year-old Matsui, the first of the 12 Euro-based stars to come 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 in South Africa last year - have shown sympathy for Japan after the 11 March disaster.

They are not obliged to release the players as the charity event is not an official international friendly designated by FIFA.

The 9.0-magnitude quake and monster tsunami have left nearly 21,000 dead or missing along Japan's eastern Pacific coast and crippled a nuclear power plant, 250 kilometres (155 miles) from Tokyo.

Many foreign companies and embassies have relocated their employees to Osaka, 400 kilometres from the capital, as a precaution.

Japan had originally planned a friendly with New Zealand in Tokyo for March 29, but the All Whites opted out due to safety worries even after the Japanese FA moved the venue to Osaka.

The 12 Europe-based players to join the 26-strong Japan national team are:

Goalkeeper: Eiji Kawashima (Lierse SK/BEL)

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

Midfielders; Yuki Abe (Leicester City/ENG), Makoto Hasebe (Wolfsburg/GER), Keisuke Honda (CSKA Moscow/RUS), Hajime Hosogai (Augsburg/GER)

Forwards: Daisuke Matsui (Grenoble/FRA), Akihiro Ienaga (Mallorca/ESP), Shinji Okazaki (Stuttgart/GER)