Japan withdraw from Copa America
© AFP

Asian champions Japan on Monday withdrew from the Copa America after the 11 March earthquake and tsunami, South American Football Confederation (CONMEBOL) spokesman Nestor Benitez said.

Japan Football Association president Junji Ogura had earlier travelled to CONMEBOL's Paraguayan headquarters to update the confederation on the situation with the quake and tsunami having brought to a halt action in the domestic J-League, creating a fixture backlog now set to be resolved in July.

"Our priority is to save lives and rebuild our nation. We regret we cannot participate at the Copa America," said Ogura, who was due later to go on to Argentina to convey Japan's decision likewise to the Argentinian Federation, Argentina being the host nation of this year's Copa from 1 to 24 July.

Our priority is to save lives and rebuild our nation. We regret we cannot participate at the Copa America.
Junji Ogura

Ogura told CONMEBOL head Nicolas Leoz that Japanese football was "facing an unprecedented crisis" after a catastophe which has left the country reeling. He added that the Japanese Football Federation had intended to suspend the J-League during the Copa America, but "now we have to use this period to finish our domestic championship as the Asian qualifiers for the 2014 World Cup and the 2012 London Olympics are approaching."

Twelve teams had been due to take part in the continental showpiece with Mexico joining the Japanese as guests. The Mexicans have joined the event on a number of occasions while the Japanese guested in 1999, exiting in the group phase. The USA have also guested in the past.

"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," added Ogura.  He therefore travelled to South America to give a first-hand assessment of the situation to CONMEBOL and Copa organisers.

The 9.0-magnitude quake and tsunami devastated Japan's Pacific coast, leaving some 12,000 people dead while crippling a nuclear power plant, causing wide-ranging electricity cuts and heavy disruption to football, baseball and other sporting events. The J-League has suspended its regular season for five rounds until 23 April to save the electricity used to stage night matches.