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Japan FA passes on invite to South American soccer tournament

JFA president Junji Ogura met with the head of the South American confederation, Nicolas Leoz, in Asuncion on Monday.
JFA president Junji Ogura met with the head of the South American confederation, Nicolas Leoz, in Asuncion on Monday.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Japanese FA asks to pull national team out of South American tournament
  • Samurai Blue had been invited as a guest entry team along with Mexico
  • JFA president traveled to Paraguay to have talks with CONMEBOL officials
  • Japan's domestic league has been suspended since last month's natural disasters
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(CNN) -- Japan's national football team will not play at the prestigious Copa America tournament in July due to the earthquake and tsunami that caused devastation in the island nation last month.

The 2011 Asian Cup champions had been one of two countries invited to take part as guests at the 12-team South American event, due to be held in Argentina from July 1-24.

But Japan Football Association president Junji Ogura traveled to Paraguay on Monday to meet his South American counterparts and ask that the "Samurai Blue" not participate alongside Mexico.

"He believes the priority now is to try to save lives and reconstruction," CONMEBOL spokesman Nestor Benitez said in a statement on Monday.

"On top of that, the Japanese FA has organizational problems due to damage to infrastructure."

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Japan's J-League has been suspended for five rounds until April 23 to save the electricity used to stage night matches, as the country tries to rebuild with more than 11,000 people killed and over 15,000 missing -- while problems still remain at a crippled nuclear power plant.

Japan had been due to play in Group A with Argentina, Bolivia and Colombia, but a team from the Central American region such as Honduras or Costa Rica may now be invited.

"We had asked to be invited to the South American championship, first of all. Therefore, it is not for us to make a decision unilaterally," Ogura told Japanese media before heading to Asuncion.

The Mexico team have been regular participants at the Copa since 1993, while the U.S. have been invited to take part three times.