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Kazuyoshi ‘King Kazu’ Miura looks back on J. League opener 25 years later

Kyodo

Kazuyoshi Miura said Tuesday he can still recall playing in the J. League opener, as the professional league marked its 25th anniversary.

The 51-year-old Yokohama FC forward, who is in his 33rd season as a professional soccer player, was a key member of the Verdy Kawasaki side, now known as Tokyo Verdy, in the match against Yokohama Marinos on May 15, 1993.

“It’s been 25 years. There were years when I remembered the day on May 15, but I didn’t notice this year,” Miura said after training with his second-division side.

After a ceremony to mark the opening of the league, a crowd of 59,626 watched the opening match at National Stadium in Tokyo. Despite netting in the first half for an early lead, Kawasaki fell 2-1 to Marinos.

“We really wanted to win the league in its first year so it was a huge game for us,” said Miura. “But we lost. Verdy weren’t able to beat Marinos at the time.”

More than two decades later, Miura, nicknamed “King Kazu,” joined Yokohama FC in 2005. He became the oldest player to appear in a professional match at the age of 50 years and 7 days last March, catching global media attention by surpassing England legend Stanley Matthews’ longevity record.

He says Japan has moved forward since the famous “Tragedy of Doha” that took place in the same year as the J. League opener.

In the World Cup qualifier for the 1994 finals in the United States, the national team let in a last-gasp equalizer against Iraq and subsequently missed out on playing in the tournament for the first time.

“That was when soccer began to be recognized by Japanese people,” Miura said. “Now, Japan can win their matches against other Asian countries, and that’s a huge step forward.

“But Brazil has also been improving in the same 25 years. We try to catch up, but they always pull away.”

Miura, who was capped 89 times by his country, traveled to Brazil as a 15-year-old and began his career in 1986, signing his first professional contract with Santos.

And now, he has high hopes for the young Japanese talent who continue in his path.

“I hope there will be a day when Japan wins the World Cup and a player wins the Ballon d’Or,” Miura said.