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Japan pulls out of Copa America

Japan withdrew from this year's Copa America on Monday, leaving the 12-nation tournament with only 11 teams just three months before it is due to start.

The president of the Japanese Football Association Junji Ogura said the most important thing was for his country to rebuild after the devastating earthquake and tsunami that struck northeast Japan on March 11.

"The priority at this moment is to continue saving lives and rebuilding the country after the earthquake and tsunami," Ogura said after meeting with officials of CONMEBOL, South American soccer's governing body.

CONMEBOL president Nicolas Leoz said he would meet with other continental leaders to discuss inviting a replacement.

CONMEBOL spokesman Nestor Benitez suggested Costa Rica or Canada as possible replacements but said nothing had been decided. "CONMEBOL will make a final decision relying on the consensus of its members," Benitez said.

The Copa America will be played July 1-24 in Argentina. Both Japan and Mexico had planned to send teams largely made up of youth players to the tournament, with Mexico's top team competing in the Gold Cup — the championship of North America, Central America and the Caribbean, which will be held in June.

Leoz said Japan would be invited to play in the 2015 Copa America, which is to be hosted by Brazil. Japan also played in the 1999 Copa America.

"We are sorry to be pulling out because we recognize that we have advanced in football by being close to South American (teams)," Ogura added.