The Japanese soccer world was in mourning Thursday after former national team defender Naoki Matsuda lost his fight for life two days after he collapsed during training.
The 2002 World Cup defender had been in a critical condition after suffering a cardiopulmonary arrest on Tuesday and passed away shortly after 1 p.m. Thursday. Matsuda had collapsed during practice with third-tier Japan Football League club Matsumoto Yamaga. He was 34.
The news overshadowed a news conference to announce Japan’s squad for its upcoming World Cup qualifying warm-up against South Korea in Sapporo next week, and Japan Football Association technical director Hiromi Hara struggled to fight back tears after being informed of the tragic news.
“We have been informed that Matsumoto Yamaga’s Naoki Matsuda has passed away,” a misty-eyed Hara said. “As you know he was a big player for the national team and was at Yokohama F. Marinos until last year. I still can’t believe it.”
“I have been the manager or coach of teams playing against him many times and know what a big presence he had. For him, we in the Japanese soccer world have to raise our level. May his soul rest in peace,” he said.
JFA President Junji Ogura said, “He has been taken away amid a new challenge of trying to get Matsumoto promoted to the J. League and this is a massive blow to us all. The soccer family will never forget the beautiful way Matsuda played.”
Matsuda collapsed with suspected heatstroke after a warm-up run on Tuesday morning but was later confirmed to have suffered cardiopulmonary arrest. He was unconscious on his arrival at the hospital and showed no response to heart massage. Matsuda was capped 40 times by his country. He was a regular fixture in the national team and played a pivotal role as Japan, under French coach Philippe Troussier, reached the second round of the World Cup for the first time when the country cohosted the 2002 finals with South Korea.
Troussier said, “He was a player that knew all of the experiments in my laboratory during my four years as coach. He was the key man in my flat back three. I am so sad.”
Matsuda played a total of 385 J. League games for Yokohama F. Marinos from 1995 to 2010, helping them win back-to-back championship titles from 2003. His international career ended in 2005.
Many of his former teammates and ex-Japan coach Takeshi Okada, who managed Matsuda at Yokohama when Marinos won the championships, were still struggling to come to terms with the news.
“It is so sudden and I am in shock,” said Okada. “Matsu (Matsuda) was one of us, battling together when Yokohama won back-to-back championships. He was a key player that made a big contribution and was very strong-minded.”
Former Japan captain Tsuneyasu Miyamoto, who played alongside Matsuda on defense in the 2002 World Cup said, “I feel so very full of sadness. I will never forget the way we celebrated after beating Russia at the Japan-South Korea World Cup.
“I want him to rest in peace.”
Goalkeeper Yoshikatsu Kawaguchi on Wednesday had dedicated to Matsuda two penalty saves in Jubilo Iwata’s 4-2 shootout win over Argentina’s Independiente in the Suruga Bank Championship, praying he would come through.
“My mind has gone totally blank. I really cannot put into words what I feel right now,” said Kawaguchi.