Japan to open 2014 against New Zealand


Japan will kick off the World Cup year with a home friendly to New Zealand in March followed by a send-off in May against an unnamed team, the Japan Football Association announced on Thursday.

The Asian champions, headed for their fifth straight World Cup finals next summer in Brazil, will host the All Whites on March 5 in their last game at Tokyo’s National Stadium before the venue is rebuilt for the 2020 Olympics.

Alberto Zaccheroni’s side will play once more at home, on May 27 at Saitama, before leaving overseas for training camp.

Japan’s first World Cup game is against Ivory Coast on June 14 in Recife, followed by Greece on June 19 in Natal and Colombia five days later in Cuiaba.

“We’ll only have a couple of days to prepare for the New Zealand game in March,” Zaccheroni said. “We won’t have played since November and everyone plays for different clubs where they do different things, so we need to get everyone back on the same page.”

Japan and New Zealand, who failed to qualify for the World Cup after losing to Mexico in the intercontinental playoff, were scheduled to play two years ago in late March, but the earthquake and tsunami on the 11th led to the Kiwis pulling out.

“There is no doubt the decision to cancel the match between New Zealand and Japan in 2011 was the correct one,” New Zealand Football Association President Frank van Hattum said in a statement.

“Both New Zealand and Japan suffered tremendous losses following the February 2011 earthquake in Christchurch and March 2011 Eastern Japan earthquake, and football becomes secondary in such tragic times.”

“We are happy that New Zealand can assist Japan in their preparations for the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil and honored to be a part of the historic final match in the National Stadium before the rebuild for the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo.”

More than who his team play in the May friendly, Zaccheroni’s immediate concern is to find a base camp in Brazil and to pick out a location where they can acclimatize to the heat and humidity before heading into South America.

“First things first, we need to decide on a training camp site before the tournament,” Zaccheroni said. “I’ll think about the game in May once that is out of the way.”

“Ideally, it would be nice to play teams with styles similar to the ones we’ve been drawn with. But the three teams we’ve got all have different styles, so we’ll have to see.”

The JFA also announced four post-World Cup home friendlies in September and November against teams yet to be determined.

Japan, possibly under a new manager, will play in Sapporo and Yokohama on Sept. 5 and 9, respectively. Toyota, Aichi Prefecture, will host a game on Nov. 14 followed by a match in Osaka four days later.