Sendai: Football returned to the Japanese prefecture hardest-hit by last month's earthquake and tsunami on Friday, with Vegalta Sendai playing their first home J-League match since the disaster.
Their long-awaited re-appearance at the Yurtec Stadium came 50 days after the magnitude-9.0 earthquake and tsunami devastated Miyagi prefecture and other areas along Japan's northeast coast.
Standing on the pitch before the game against Urawa Red Diamonds -- which finished in a 1-0 win for Sendai -- prefecture governor Yoshihiro Murai declared the contest "the kickoff towards reconstruction".
Fervent orange-clad home supporters held up banners reading: "We'll not give up until reviving our hometown", while both teams wore black armbands.
A crowd of more than 18,000 saw Sendai midfielder Yoshiaki Ota score the only goal of the match 40 minutes into the first half.
"I'm glad we won this game, because this was a match we must not lose," said Ota.
The catastrophe on March 11 claimed the lives of nearly 15,000 people, with more than 11,000 still missing.
"We are still far from the point where we can start reconstruction," said Tsutomu Sato, 47, from Minamisanriku, one of the coastal communities wiped out by the tsunami.
"Many sports events have been cancelled, including those for kids. But I think we can get the power to get back on our feet through events like this," said Sato, who wore the orange Sendai strip.
"I really needed this to stand up again."
It was Sendai's second match after the J-League resumed last weekend, when they claimed a narrow victory over Kawasaki Frontale.
Professional baseball also returned to Sendai, with the local Rakuten Eagles lifting northeastern spirits when beat the Orix Buffaloes 3-1 in an eagerly-awaited game.
The teams and more than 20,000 spectators stood in a moment of silence before the singing of the national anthem ahead of the match, while the national flag was flown half mast at the packed Kleenex stadium.