Japan to host friendlies as opposition reassured over safety

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The Independent Football

Peru and Czech Republic will travel to disaster-hit Japan for friendly internationals in June after receiving reassurances over potential health risks amid the current nuclear crisis.

Last month's earthquake and tsunami left 28,000 people dead or missing in north-east Japan, also triggering a nuclear crisis at a power plant north of Tokyo.

Stadiums suffered damage while the J-League has been forced to cram a month's worth of games into three weeks in the stifling July heat to make up the backlog of lost matches.

Peru and the Czechs have agreed to travel after being reassured by the Japan Football Association that the players and officials would be in no danger. "We gave the relevant data about radiation levels and aftershocks," the JFA general secretary, Kozo Tashima said. "They are convinced it is safe to come."

Asian champions Japan were scheduled to play home friendlies against Montenegro and New Zealand late last month but both teams pulled out following the disaster.

Japan will now play Peru in Niigata on 1 June and the Czechs in Yokohama on 7 June, the JFA said. Both matches will be played at night under floodlights, although the JFA said lighting away from the pitch would be dimmed or switched off to conserve energy.

Japan's government has called on football and baseball, among other professional sports, to save electricity as workers battle to avoid a catastrophic meltdown at the Fukushima plant some 150 miles north of Tokyo.

Japan's national side also face an embarrassing player shortage when they play as guests in July's Copa America in Argentina.

With J-League clubs unable to release players with the season postponed following the 11 March quake and tsunami and European sides refusing to play ball, Japan could have to call up a squad made up largely of university students.