Football: Tension as Nanjing hosts Japanese team

Intense security was deployed Tuesday for a Japanese football club's match in Nanjing, scene of the worst atrocities of Japan's 1930s invasion of China, which still weighs heavily on ties.

About 6,000 paramilitary guards and police were drafted in for the AFC Champions League game between Japan's Vegalta Sendai and home side Jiangsu Sainty, which ended in a 0-0 draw and no violent flare-ups.

Rows of paramilitary police looked on as highly emotive Chinese fans made their final approach to the stadium, holding just under 45,000 Jiangsu supporters and about 100 heavily-protected Japanese.

"Down with the little Japanese. Down with the little Japanese," shouted one group in unison as they waved the Chinese national flag.

Last season's Chinese Super League runners-up offered their players a huge bonus pool of four million yuan ($640,000) to beat the J-League team, a club official confirmed to AFP.

Beyond the result, many attach huge symbolic importance to what is thought to be the first senior men's football match involving a Japanese team in Nanjing, where invading troops launched a brutal massacre in 1937.

"This is not just any game, this is a game against the Japanese and it means everything," said Wei Jingsu, who was holding a flag which had imprinted the image of Sun Yat-sen, a key historical figure who established the Chinese republic.

"I have this flag because today is the anniversary of Sun Yat-sen's death, and us Chinese never forget history, including what the Japanese did to us."

The relationship between Japan and China is still deeply strained by Japan's bloody wartime occupation, including the Nanjing Massacre in which 300,000 civilians and soldiers died, according to China.

Some foreign academics estimate a significantly lower death toll.

In the weeks running up to the game, Chinese media reported there were plans to move it from the 60,000-seater Nanjing Olympic Sports Centre to another location in the eastern province of Jiangsu.

"I don't like the Japanese because I am proud to be from Nanjing and no-one in Nanjing can forget what happened," said 24-year-old Cheng Yuming.

"This game is hugely important for us."

The game kicked off shortly after a rousing, spontaneous rendition of the Chinese national anthem.

Scores of police were standing in large groups in the tunnel entrances to the pitch, and at about every few metres of the ground among the fans. They lined the perimeter of the pitch moments before half time and the final whistle.

The Japanese fans were located in the third tier of the stadium with ten blocks of seats surrounding them, populated by around 200 police.

One Chinese report said Japan had asked China to guarantee the safety of the visiting team and its supporters in the city.

Outside the ground, paramilitary guards prevented anyone attempting to gain access to the entire north section of the stadium where the Japanese fans were located.

The level of security -- which was ten times that of a normal Chinese league game for Jiangsu Sainty -- effectively meant the Japanese supporters would not have any contact with the home support, ensuring there was little risk of violence.

On its website, the Japanese embassy in Beijing posted safety advice for fans travelling to China for Wednesday's clash between Beijing Guoan and Japan's Sanfrecce Hiroshima.

It pointed out that "anti-Japan demonstrations and other activities" happened in China last year amid the islands row, adding: "It is still necessary at present to be careful by refraining from speaking in Japanese in the streets or otherwise making yourself highly visible."

"Please be careful about what you say or do in China inside or outside the match venue, bearing in mind the recent situation," it said.

"When you cheer in the match, please cheer in a good manner without excessively jeering opposing players or supporters, or acting in a way that insults the opposing country."