TOKYO - Japan will play in this year's
Copa America in Argentina having reversed a decision to pull out
of the tournament after the country's northeastern coast was
devastated by an earthquake and tsunami last month.
"The JFA decided to participate in the Copa America today,"
Japan Football Association (JFA) general secretary Kozo Tashima
was quoted as saying by the Kyodo news agency on Thursday.
"We are in the process of notifying Conmebol (South American
football confederation) as we speak."
Japan, who played as guests at the 1999 Copa America in
Paraguay, were drawn with hosts Argentina, Bolivia and Colombia.
"Japan's confirmation was greatly welcomed in South America
at such a special moment the Asian country is living through,"
the Conmebol said on its website.
It said the JFA asked Conmebol for its help "before FIFA for
the release by clubs of at least 15 from a list of 20 Japanese
players who play in European football."
The JFA decision to take up the guest spot in the July 1-24
event will not please European clubs who are reluctant to lose
their Japanese players. Bundesliga side Schalke 04 have already
objected to releasing defender Atsuto Uchida.
"We need to be careful how we reply if Uchida is called up
in July," Schalke sporting director Horst Heldt said.
"We're always willing to cooperate with the JFA whether it's
during the season or in the off-season.
"But we have a professional obligation to get the team in
shape for an important and long season at that time of the year.
It will be difficult for us to let him go."
The Kyodo report said J-League authorities had offered
conditional support to the JFA decision, saying coach Alberto
Zaccheroni could pick only one player from each club.
Tashima said he did not expect all of Japan's players to be
available but the squad must be strong enough to protect the
reputation of the country and the tournament.
"We need a team that won't embarrass us or damage the
prestige of the Copa America," Tashima said.
"As (JFA President Junji) Ogura said, likely half the team
would have to be from Europe.
"We don't expect to get all the players we want, and some we
will need to rest. But we will try to pick as many of the
players the manager needs."
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