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The J. League isn’t ridding itself of COVID-19 anytime soon. This month saw the first postponements of the season after a cluster of infections emerged within the Gamba Osaka camp, writes Dan Orlowitz.

Last Monday, at the latest joint meeting between the J. League and Nippon Professional Baseball, the leagues said they may use on-site PCR testing as a way to help stay on their respective schedules, reports Kaz Nagatsuka.

No such luck for the youth World Cups and Asian Championships, though: They have all been canceled, a move that could have major implications for a generation of players in Japan, Kyodo reports, who will miss out on the chance to play against top European and South American talent.

Gamba has not played since their season-opening loss against Vissel in Kobe on Feb. 27. | KYODO
Gamba has not played since their season-opening loss against Vissel in Kobe on Feb. 27. | KYODO

Yet there are signs of light at the end of the long, dark tunnel. A smattering of international contests are coming up for all those fans feeling starved of their fix of Samurai Blue action. Diaries at the ready:

In their first home game since the pandemic began, Japan will play South Korea in a friendly in Yokohama on March 25. The next day, the prospective Olympic men’s team will host a friendly against their under-24 counterparts from Argentina in Tokyo, with a rematch coming three days later in Fukuoka.

The Samurai Blue will also have home advantage in their second-round group of Asian qualifying for the 2022 World Cup from May to June, with all Group F games to be played in Japan. And finally, looking beyond the Tokyo Games to December, FIFA will extend the smaller Club World Cup format for a year in Japan after a 24-team revamp in China set for June was delayed due to COVID-19.

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