Japan has so far hosted seven of the 11 FIFA Club World Cups, with the final being played at the International Stadium Yokohama (Nissan Stadium) in Kanagawa Prefecture each time. Matches have also been played in Tokyo (National Stadium) and Toyota City in Aichi Prefecture (Toyota Stadium). This tournament will see four games played at the Nagai Stadium in Osaka for the first time.
Nagai Stadium is the home ground of J.2 side Cerezo Osaka. It is one of Japan’s major stadiums, having hosted three games during the 2002 FIFA World Cup Korea/Japan™ and the play-off for promotion to the J.1 League on 6 December this year.
“Thirty years ago, soccer was not so popular in the Osaka area when I was a small kid”, said Takashi Kawahara, deputy editor of World Soccer Digest, which, as Japan’s leading football magazine, has been keeping fans abreast of the global scene since its launch in 1994. Born in Hirakata in Osaka Prefecture, Kawahara is a renowned expert on clubs from the Kansai region, covering their stories for a sister magazine that focuses on the domestic game.
“However, now Osaka, where once soccer was not popular at all, is home to J.League clubs. And with Gamba Osaka in the northern part of Osaka, along with Cerezo Osaka in the south, the two professional clubs have been running their grassroots programmes with great endurance, and soccer is very popular here these days. This improvement was carried out thanks to the soccer family. I was so impressed by Korea/Japan 2002. And this time Osaka hosts the FIFA Club World Cup. I am also pleased with this achievement”, added Kuwahara, still upbeat about Osaka hosting its first Club World Cup, despite his obvious disappointment at Gamba not being part of it.
Also from Hirakata in Osaka Prefecture is Masaya Mori, a 23-year old football fan. Although born and bred in Osaka, this young businessman is now a Kashima Antlers fan. However, he also supports Shriker Osaka, a futsal club based in Osaka. Passionate about football in all its forms, he said, “I’m looking forward to seeing a lot of football from global sides in a stadium where I normally watch the J.League.” Mori also talked about his love of Osaka.
“Teams like Club America, River Plate and TP Mazembe are coming to Osaka. I’m relishing seeing the respective playing styles and tactics of the champions of Latin America, Africa and other continents. I also want to see how the various continental styles fare against Barcelona and how Japan’s Sanfrecce Hiroshima will square up against the foreign teams. I would like this Club World Cup to generate even more football fever in Osaka.”
An Osaka-born 37-year-old housewife, who used to play in Japan’s top women’s league, is also thrilled the tournament is coming to Osaka. “For young boys and girls who enjoy football, being able to watch world-class players provides a different type of stimulation to that which you get from the national team. I think that’s a wonderful thing,” she said.
Regardless of who they will be cheering on, it is hoped that the first Club World Cup to come to Osaka can inspire not just the fans of Gamba and Cerezo, but also the children throughout the prefecture and western Japan.