Chelsea face familiar opponents at an unfamiliar location on Tuesday when we meet Barcelona at the largest football-specific venue in Japan, Saitama Stadium 2002.
Built for Japan’s co-hosting of the 2002 World Cup, the 63,000-capacity arena is located in Saitama, a satellite city in the Greater Tokyo Area, about 25 kilometres north of the capital.
It hosted four games during the World Cup, beginning with England’s opening match against Sweden when Sol Campbell’s first-half header was cancelled out by Niclas Alexandersson’s long-range drive after the interval.
The stadium also staged a 2-2 draw between Japan and Belgium and Cameroon’s 1-0 win over Saudi Arabia during the group stage before hosting the semi-final between Brazil and Turkey, when Ronaldo’s stunning toe-poked strike secured a 1-0 win for the South American side.
Since the World Cup, it has continued to stage high-profile matches as a regular venue for Japan’s national men’s team, the Blue Samurai.
They first played at the ground in November 2001 for a 1-1 draw with Italy in a friendly and have used it on a regular basis, playing all eight of their home games there during the qualifying competition for the 2018 World Cup.
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It is also the home ground of one of the J.League’s most popular teams, Urawa Red Diamonds. They regularly boast the league’s highest average attendance and drew capacity crowds for the second legs of their Asian Champion League final triumphs against Sepahan of Iran in 2007 and Al Hilal of Saudi Arabia in 2017.
The stadium is easily accessible through Tokyo’s metro system and is a model in eco-friendly sustainability with a large basement reservoir to store rainwater for daily and emergency use, and a system to collect paper drinking cup which can be recycled for other purposes.