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May 17, 2011

Japan officially pull out of Copa America

Japan have withdrawn from playing in this summer's Copa America, with Blue Samurai chiefs citing the country's recent devastating earthquake and subsequent rescheduling of the J-League as a key factor.

Since 1993, two non-South American nations have been invited to compete in the continent's premier international tournament and Japan had been set to make their second appearance in the competition, having last played in 1999 when they finished bottom of their group.

But a combination of factors, including the earthquake and tsunami, as well as European clubs' refusal to release players for the tournament, has led to the decision to pull out of the competition, which takes place from July 1-24 in Argentina.

Japan Football Association (JFA) president Junji Ogura announced the decision after sending an official message to the Argentina Football Association (AFA), notifying president Julio Grondona of the withdrawal.

"With all due considerations, we cannot form a team to participate in such an important tournament as the Copa America and lamentably we must withdraw our place in the competition," Ogura said.

The JFA had been trying to strike an agreement with German clubs, in particular, but most Bundesliga pre-season camps begin during the tournament and so no deal could be reached.

Japan coach Alberto Zaccheroni said: "I respect the JFA's decision and am deeply grateful to the authorities of the JFA, CONMEBOL and FIFA, who worked enthusiastically towards our participation in the tournament.

"This year has turned to be an exceptional year following the East Japan disaster and that has put us in a situation where we have to make a difficult decision like this one.''

The third round of Asian qualifiers for the 2014 World Cup will get under way in September and Japan will now have three friendly matches - Kirin Cup games against Peru on June 1 in Niigata and Czech Republic on June 7 in Yokohama - and against South Korea on August 10 in Sapporo to prepare.

Zaccheroni added: "We would like to move on to set our full focus on our preparation for our important games in the World Cup qualifiers.''

Mexico, the second invited team, will return to make their eighth appearance at the Copa America, but it looks unlikely that any other nation will be able to fill Japan's place at such short notice. The USA competed at the 2007 edition of the tournament, though they lost all three of their group games.

The 2011 Copa America will be shown live and exclusive on ESPN UK, with all 26 matches screened between July 1 and the July 24 final.

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