Japan to play in Copa despite player shortage

SINGAPORE - Japan may be unable to pick their strongest squad for the Copa America in July but the Asian Cup holders have pledged not to pull out of the tournament for a second time.

"Which ever players we choose I'm confident we will be able to form a team of high calibre," Japan Football Association (JFA) vice-president Kozo Tashima told Reuters in an interview on Wednesday.

"It (another withdrawal) will not happen. The level of our players is very much better. In the Asian Cup (this year) we couldn't get all our best players but still we produced results."

Japan, invited to the Copa as a guest team, are likely to be without some key players after reversing their original decision to withdraw from the tournament which will be held in Argentina.

European clubs, in particular, are reluctant to release their players for the Copa.

"The players want to play the highest level of football," said Tashima who is in Singapore to promote cooperation between its Football Association and the JFA.

OLDEST TOURNAMENT

"The Copa America is the oldest continental tournament, very traditional. Normally we cannot play in (such) high level matches and almost all the players want to participate."

Bundesliga leaders Borussia Dortmund do not want midfielder Shinji Kagawa to play in Argentina while Schalke 04 full-back Atsuto Uchida and VfB Stuttgart striker Shinji Okazaki seem unlikely to travel.

Japan's domestic J-League are also unable to release players with the season having been postponed following last month's deadly earthquake and tsunami.

"The clubs and the national team are like two pillars working together. We have to respect each other," said Tashima. "It is not about which is more important or which is less important."

He added the JFA does not expect world football's ruling body FIFA to bend its rules and make European clubs release their players.

Tashima said he could only hope to secure the services of Japanese internationals through negotiations with their respective employers.

Japan, who won their fourth Asian Cup in January, are ranked 13th in the world.

They have been drawn to play hosts Argentina, Bolivia and Colombia in Group A of the Copa.


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