Tragic news out of Japan as Naoki Matsuda succumbs two days later after suffering a suspected heart attack. Matsuda was just 34 years. He collapsed on the pitch during a routine warm up at current club Matsumoto Yamaga and rushed to the hospital where he was put on artificial life support systems but never gained consciousness.
Japan has been in the throes of a heatwave which has already claimed 43 lives and it is possible Matsuda might have experienced a sunstroke. The doctors believe he might have suffered a heart attack after arriving at the hospital unconscious as he did not respond to efforts to resuscitate him.
Matsuda was a long standing fixture at Yokohama F. Marinos having made 385 appearances for that club where his exploits as a central defender earned him 40 international caps for Japan. He was used as a right back in the successful 2002 World Cup squad which got to the quarterfinals and heralded Japan's rise as a soccer power. Amongst his team mates were the fabulous Shunsuke Nakamura who was the first to arrive in the hospital after learning his friend had collapsed. His reaction:
"He was dynamic in every aspect and he was a kind of big brother for everyone in a positive sense. A smile was on his face."
The 6' defender guided the F. Marinos to back to back J-League titles in 2002 and 2003 before moving on after 16 years last December to the third division Matsumoto Yamaga. He also made the J-league top XI in 2000 and 2002.
At his farewell speech at a packed Nissan Stadium, home to the F.Marinos, Matsuda said that he lived for the game. "Seriously, I love football for the heck of it," he said. There probably can't be a more fitting epitaph. RIP, Naoki Matsuda (14 March 1977 - 4 August 2011).