Japan vs. South Korea: Fierce derby between rivals is sparking more concern than excitement

Any sporting event between the two countries always has an additional competitive edge given the historical tensions between South Korea and Japan.

South Korea fans describe the clash as an historical rivalry, while Japan’s national team coach Moriyasu Hajime also acknowledged many people consider it as a “special match,” according to JFA news release.

Last time the two faced off in an international friendly match in 2011, Japan won 3-0 on home soil.

Since then, the rivals have met four times at the East Asian Football Federation Championship, with South Korea winning two of those matches, Japan one of them, with the other game drawn.

The South Korean national team is now in Yokohama, Japan, for Thursday’s friendly match. However, some South Korean fans have called for the game to be canceled due to concerns over the team’s safety traveling amidst of a global Covid-19 pandemic.

Japan celebrate reaching the final of the Asian Cup 2011 after defeating South Korea 3-0 in a penalty shoot out.

Frightening precedent concerns fans

When KFA announced the fixture on its Instagram feed earlier this month, comments flooded in, criticizing the association’s decision to host the match.

“When we say don’t do it, just don’t do it, please,” one user commented.

Fans referred to last November when the South Korean national team traveled to Austria for friendlies, where seven players contracted coronavirus despite complying with the Covid-19 regulations implemented to prevent the spread.

Korean football fan Kim Tae-yeon said: “After the trip to Austria, K League clubs were strategically impacted as national players couldn’t participate in the Asia Champions League (ACL) due to Covid-19 infection.”

Ulsan Hyundai FC was forced to compete in the 2020 ACL without its first-choice goalkeeper Jo Hyun-woo, the keeper that shocked football fans at the 2018 Brazil World Cup with his superb performance, as he psychologically suffered from Covid-19’s aftereffects, though the Korean team still managed to win the title.

Kim said the precedent makes him more nervous about the team’s trip to Japan. “The Covid-19 situation in Japan doesn’t look good, and there are infected J League players as well.”

The Japanese Football Association on March 22 confirmed that coach Toshihide Saito had tested positive before linking up with the rest of the squad, but the hotly anticipated match will go ahead as scheduled as there are no close contacts and additional infections within the squad.
According to the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Japan has had 458,621 Covid-19 cases and had 8,908 deaths from coronavirus.
Jo Hyun-woo makes a save in the 2018 FIFA World Cup match against Sweden.

Rivalry welcomes 10,000 spectators

Sporting events have been held behind closed doors or with limited capacity as the Covid-19 pandemic continues to rage on.

But the JFA announced that it will sell additional tickets to total 10,000 for Thursday’s derby match, following the Japanese government’s decision to lift the Covid-19 state of emergency in the Kanagawa prefecture on March 22.

Korean football fan Cho Min-sang criticized the JFA’s decisio

“I think letting 10,000 spectators is a decision ignoring all the efforts made around the world as people are being considerate of each other’s safety and making efforts to enjoy the game at the stadium,” he said.

Woo-young Jung and Dujae Won clash with Raul Jimenez of Mexico.

Both Kim and Cho compared spectator capacity to the K League, the South Korean professional soccer league. The K League only welcomes 10% of stadium capacity in Seoul Metropolitan area and 20% in the rest of the nation while away fans are banned to minimize infection risk from traveling.

“I’m concerned for the players, spectators and locals’ health,” Cho said.

JFA is requiring spectators to comply with its guidelines and prohibited acts on matchday.

Fans must scan QR codes, physically distance, wear masks, check temperatures and wash hands. Chanting, physical contact with others and waving flags or scarves is prohibited and, while eating and drinking is allowed, fans must immediately put their masks back on.

South Korea saw 428 new cases from Tuesday, while Japan reported 1,491 cases on Tuesday, according to Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency and Japan’s Health, Labour and Welfare Ministry.
Members of Japan's national football team train in Yokohama.

Petition

Despite some fans’ skepticism over the match, South Korean national team manager Paulo Bento says that this is “the only opportunity” to check the team’s performance ahead of the second round of World Cup qualifiers in June.
However, in a petition to the South Korean President’s residence Blue House, the petitioner called for the match to be stopped, saying: “It seems like Japan’s trying to promote that they can properly hold the Olympics by hosting the match.”
Japan has faced a number of hurdles in hosting the Olympic Games with the ongoing Covid-19 complications, high-level officials resigning and the Organising Committee’s decision not to allow international spectators.
The KFA’s Medical Committee outlined Covid-19 guidelines for its team to abide by during its trip to Japan.

Individuals had to wear a mask and a transparent face shield as they flew to Narita Airport on Monday.

The KFA also said players will have to get a test every morning in order to attend training, and those with flu or unusual symptoms will be quarantined immediately. The JFA’s protocol keeps the teams in a bubble to avoid outside contact, according to its news release.
Korea players celebrate after defeating Japan during the men's bronze medal play-off match between Korea and Japan at the London 2012 Olympics.

Upon returning from Japan, 16 drafted K League players will go into cohort quarantine at the Paju National Football Center for seven days.

The KFA said it has coordinated with the Korean government to allow K League players to play league games while limiting their travels only to their house, team facilities and stadiums for another seven days. The K League resumes on April 2.

Some Korean fans are also upset that 16 K league players traveling to Japan could be physically exhausted from the trip and quarantine.

“K League has tight schedule because the ACL and World Cup qualifiers have been postponed,” FC Seoul fan Kim explained. “I’m worried that if a drafted player gets infected, it’d be a huge loss for the club.”

South Korean national soccer team players take part in a training session in Yokohama.

Fans, however, agree with the necessity of quarantining as their concerns over the match is all about the team’s safety while they root for the team’s victory in the rivalry.

“Since the team’s already there [in Japan], I hope they win and come back safely,” one commented on KFA Instagram.

“I sincerely hope that no one gets injured or infected,” Cho said.




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