Japanese soccer legend Shinji Ono retires at 44

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Japanese soccer legend Shinji Ono, one of the biggest stars in Asian football, ended his 26-year career Sunday with the announcement of his retirement.

Final match: Wearing a No. 44 jersey that matched his age, Ono finished Sunday night’s game with a loss for his team, Hokkaido Consadole Sapporo, against the Urawa Reds 2-0 at the Sapporo Dome in Hokkaido. The Consadole Sapporo ranked 12th while Urawa Reds finished fourth this season of the J1 League.

Speaking at a ceremony after the match, Ono recognized his late mother for introducing him to soccer. His mother passed away on Oct. 17.

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“Thank you for giving birth to me and letting me meet this wonderful thing called football," Ono said. He exited the dome with a thunderous applause and cheers from fans.

About Ono: After making his international debut with the Urawa Reds at 18, Ono played for Japan’s Samurai Blue at the 1998 FIFA World Cup in France. He won the J-League Rookie of the Year Award while playing for Urawa Reds in the same year. He made two more appearances at the FIFA World Cup in 2002 and 2006 under the Japanese flag.

Ono joined the Feyenoord Football Club in the Netherlands after his run with Urawa Reds in 2001. In his first season with the Dutch team, he became the first Japanese player to lift a major European trophy after they won the UEFA (Union of European Football Associations) Cup, now known as the UEFA Europa League.

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Ono also won J1, the Emperor’s Cup and Asian Champions League titles in a span of two seasons after returning to the Urawa Reds in 2006.

What’s next: Ono told reporters that his football life does not end with his retirement. Without elaborating, he said “I want to help Japanese football in my next stage of life if I can in some way."


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