Japan withdraws from Copa America

Japan on Tuesday officially withdrew from July’s Copa America/South American Championship in Argentina after failing to secure enough players from Europe to form a credible squad.

“It is a great pity that we won’t be able to take part in the tournament as the local people [in Argentina] were preparing to welcome us,” JFA President Junji Ogura commented, noting that the problems caused by the East Japan earthquake were insurmountable.
“We realized that we would not be able to form a squad good enough to play in the Copa America and on that basis we had no choice but to give up the opportunity to play in the tournament.”

Japan had been invited to play in the Copa America as a guest team, but the devastating March 11 earthquake and tsunami forced the J. League to suspend all games for six weeks and those games will now be played during the previously planned July break.
Because of the schedule change, the J. League clubs were unwilling to release their players for the tournament. Consequently, the JFA tried to form the Japan squad around Europe-based players.
But after receiving replies from the 15 European clubs, Ogura sent a letter outlining the JFA’s decision – as well as an apology – to CONMEBOL President Nicolas Leos, General Secretary Eduardo Deluca, FIFA President Joseph Blatter, Argentina Football Association President Julio Grondona and the tournament’s local organizing committee chief Jose Luis Meiszner.

JFA Technical Director Hiromi Hara, who travelled to Europe to have talks with top officials at 11 clubs in Europe, pointed out that the timing of the South American competition was a problem for the European clubs as their 2011-12 season will start earlier than usual due to EURO 2012.
“Many of our players have become top players at these clubs, and that is something to be pleased about,” Hara noted. “Club officials told me they would understand if this was the Asian Cup or a one-off charity match, but they had a problem with it being the Copa America.”
Following the decision, Japan will have three international matches in the run-up to the 2014 FIFA World Cup qualifiers in September – against Peru and the Czech Republic in the Kirin Cup in early June, and against Korea Republic in August in a Kirin Challenge Cup friendly.

Hara said on the impact of withdrawing from the Copa: “Getting together is not the only option for strengthening the team. The preparation period for our squad is short, but if each player works on their fitness, it will help strengthen the side.”

Japan coach Alberto Zaccheroni commented: “I respect the JFA’s decision and am deeply grateful to the JFA, CONMEBOL and FIFA, who have worked hard regarding our participation in the tournament.
“This year has turned to be an exceptional year following the East Japan disaster, and we have been put into a situation where we have had to make a difficult decision. However, we would like to move on to set our full focus on our preparations for our important World Cup qualifiers.”