Reigning champions Japan have chosen Cessnock as their base to plot the defence of their AFC Asian Cup title in January.
The Samurai Blue, who broke Australian hearts with an extra-time winner in the 2011 final, will prepare in the Hunter Valley ahead of their opening match in Newcastle on January 12.
Japan, featuring World Cup star Keisuke Honda, will meet newcomers Palestine in their first match before travelling to Brisbane to play 2007 champions Iraq on January 16 and Melbourne to take on Jordan on January 20.
Honda and fellow European-based guns such as Yuto Nagatomo, Shinji Kagawa and Shinji Okazaki, will arrive in Cessnock on January 3, training at Cessnock Sports Ground.
This will give them nine days to get ready for the 2015 Asian Cup, the biggest football tournament ever held in Australia.
Javier Aguirre’s team, soon to play the Socceroos in a significant friendly in Osaka on November 18, are the most prominent side yet to announce their pre-competition plans.
They follow the lead of China, who will set up at Campbelltown in Sydney’s west, Bahrain (Ballarat), Jordan (Mulgrave in Melbourne’s east), United Arab Emirates (Gold Coast) and Oman and Qatar (both Canberra).
Uzbekistan has also confirmed they will arrive on January 3 and train initially at Rockdale in Sydney’s south.
“This is a massive boost for Cessnock, Newcastle and the whole Hunter Valley,” said Michael Brown, CEO of the Asian Cup Local Organising Committee.
“To attract a team of Japan’s stature to the region speaks volumes for the Hunter, which has traditionally been one of the most passionate football areas in Australia.
“With less than three months to go until kick-off, this announcement takes the excitement and anticipation up another notch.
“The look and feel of the tournament is really starting to take shape.
“And of course in the back of everyone’s minds is the possibility that Japan and Australia could once again contest the final.”
Councillor Bob Pynsent, Mayor of the City of Cessnock, said: “Our residents live for sport and are so excited to welcome the Japanese Team as visitors to our magnificent area.
“We know this is a brilliant opportunity and cannot wait to showcase our world-renowned Hunter Valley food, wine, recreation and relaxation and for the Japanese to experience the best of Australian hospitality in their time with us.”