- Associated Press - Saturday, March 12, 2011

TOKYO (AP) - Asian Champions League soccer games in Japan have been called off following the massive earthquake and tsunami.

Asian Football Confederation President Mohamed Bin Hammam extended his condolences to the people of Japan on Saturday in announcing the suspensions.

Nagoya Grampus was to play United Arab Emirates’ club Al Ain on Tuesday, and Kashima Antlers were to host Australia’s Sydney FC on Wednesday. Japan soccer authorities already had suspended all 19 J-League first and second division weekend games.

The tsunami spawned by the largest earthquake in Japan’s recorded history slammed the country’s eastern coast Friday. On Saturday, an explosion shattered a building housing a nuclear reactor amid fears of a meltdown. The government’s chief spokesman said the death toll could exceed 1,000.

Alberto Zaccheroni, the Italian coach of the Japanese national soccer team, and four of his assistants had returned to Italy to be with their families, the Japanese news agency Kyodo reported.

He has not scheduled a return date, and Japan’s exhibition games against Montenegro on March 25 and New Zealand on March 29 are in doubt.

“First of all, I offer my heartfelt condolences to the victims of this earthquake,” Zaccheroni was quoted as saying. “The families of me and my staff in Italy are worried about our safety after the damage the quake has done. With permission from the (Japanese federation) we have decided to return to Italy to ease their worries.

He added that he is “looking forward to coming back as soon as possible to work with the people of Japan again.”

Zaccheroni has been based mainly in Tokyo since he began coaching Japan in August. In the hours following the quake, he was quoted as telling Italian television that “everything was rocking” and he felt “as if I was inside a house made of rubber.”

In addition to soccer, baseball games in Tokyo, Chiba and Yokohama were called off. A special committee investigating match-fixing in the traditional Japanese sport of sumo has been delayed.

The International Skating Union on Friday said it planned to proceed with the figure skating world championships in Tokyo that begin March 21. Local organizers said the venue, Yoyogi National Stadium, appeared unscathed.

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