Japan confirm Copa America withdrawal

* Japan pull out of Copa America

* JFA to concentrate on recovery from earthquake (Adds details)

ASUNCION, April 4 (Reuters) - Japan will not take part in the Copa America, officials confirmed on Monday, after the country's northeastern coast was devastated by an earthquake and tsunami last month.

Japan Football Association (JFA) president Junji Ogura, whose team had been invited to the July tournament in Argentina, told South American soccer governing body (CSF) chief Nicolas Leoz that his organisation wanted to concentrate on the country's recovery.

"Japan will not take part in the Copa America. The (JFA) president came to explain the reasons. He believes the priority now is to try to save lives and (Japan's) reconstruction," CSF spokesman Nestor Benitez said on Monday.

"On top of that, the Japanese FA have organisational problems due to damage to infrastructure," he added.

More than 11,000 people were killed and over 15,000 are missing as a result of the force 9.0 earthquake and huge tsunami.

Media reports in Argentina said world champions Spain could be invited to replace Japan in the 12-team tournament but Argentine FA president Julio Grondona told Reuters he knew nothing about such a possibility.

"I know nothing about it. It's a matter for the South American Confederation," Grondona said.

The team to replace Japan, who played at the 1999 tournament in Paraguay, are more likely to come from the Concacaf region with Costa Rica, Canada and Honduras named in media reports.

Mexico have been regular guests at the Copa since 1993, Costa Rica and the United States have played in it three times, while Honduras filled the gap when Argentina pulled out of the 2001 tournament in Colombia over security issues.

Japan were drawn in Group A with hosts Argentina, Bolivia and Colombia for the July 1-24 tournament.

(Writing by Rex Gowar in Buenos Aires; Editing by Clare Fallon; To query or comment on this story email sportsfeedback@thomsonreuters.com)


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