• AFP-Jiji, staff report

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Japan will play South Korea in a friendly in Yokohama on March 25, the Japan Football Association announced Thursday, in their first home game since the coronavirus pandemic began.

The four-time Asian champion will take on their Korean neighbor at the 72,000-capacity Nissan Stadium, although attendance restrictions have yet to be announced.

The greater Tokyo region — including Kanagawa Prefecture, where Yokohama is located — is currently under a coronavirus state of emergency that is set to end on March 21.

Under the restrictions, attendance at sporting events is capped at 5,000 or half capacity, whichever is lowest. That limit will rise to 10,000 after the state of emergency concludes.

The Samurai Blue have not played at home since losing 4-1 to Venezuela in November 2019, but they played four friendly matches in Europe last year using entirely overseas-based squads. Japan last faced a full-strength South Korea in an August 2011 friendly hosted at Sapporo Dome, although the two countries have squared off with domestic-based squads in the East Asian championship.

“I think the fact that we’re able to play this game in the middle of a pandemic is down to the efforts of a lot of people,” Japan manager Hajime Moriyasu said in a statement.

“I’m grateful for everyone’s cooperation. For everyone who’s done everything to make this match happen and for everyone who supports us, we want to deliver a win and give everything to give everyone a lift.”

The match will coincide with the March 25 start of the postponed Olympic torch relay.

Organizers are currently battling public scepticism about whether the Tokyo Games can be held safely this summer, and are expected to soon announce that foreign fans will be barred from attending.

Japan was originally scheduled to restart their 2022 World Cup qualifying campaign at home against Myanmar on March 25, but the match was postponed following the military coup in Myanmar.

They will now resume their qualifying campaign against Mongolia on March 30. Although Mongolia is the designated home team, the game will take place behind closed doors in Chiba due to pandemic-related travel restrictions.

Japan’s under-24 Olympic team, which Moriyasu also coaches, will play home friendlies against Argentina on March 26 in Tokyo and March 29 in Kitakyushu, Fukuoka Prefecture.

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