Asian Comment: Here Is Why Japan Can And Will Play At The Copa America

Cesare Polenghi examines the reasons why the Samurai Blue will participate in the tournament in Argentina notwithstanding some problems...
Speculation of Japan bailing out of the 2011 Copa America started with an interview with Urawa Reds' Sergio Ariel Escudero. The Japanese-Spanish striker, while talking to a reporter from the Argentinian magazine Ole, was asked if the natural disaster which struck Japan could have any repercussions on the Samurai Blue's participation at this summer's tournament.

Escudero replied, "On one hand is the thought that [the Japanese national team] will go to the Copa America so that the people can continue enjoying soccer and get together. But, on the other hand there are the thoughts of not traveling to the Copa America, and helping the people who lost so much. It is not decided."

Escudero's words were misinterpreted and possibly lost in translation. Those who started to believe that Japan might actually turn down the invitation based their theories on the fact that the J-League would have to use the summer months to make up for the games that have been postponed in the aftermath of the earthquake and the tsunami.

However, the Japan Football Association and the J-League never implied that participation at the Copa America was in doubt. And, in all honesty, there is no logical reason to believe that could be the case.

First of all, the Japanese national team has become a symbol of the country, both at home and internationally. As ambassadors of Japan, the Samurai Blue have now, more than ever, the important task of presenting to the world the healthy, strong and possibly winning face of their country.

Moreover, Japan's national team generated in 2010 a huge income, which is necessary for Japanese soccer to thrive. From a promotional and economic point of view, it would be a disaster not to go to Argentina.

And from a strictly sporting angle, it would be a huge blow to head coach Alberto Zaccheroni's plans to waste the chance to play in a competitive international tournament, in view of the hopes that Japanese football harbours for Brazil's 2014 World Cup.

The problem, as said above, could be a juxtaposition of the Copa America and J-League's calendars; however, Japan could present a very competitive team even without fishing players from its top domestic league.

Assuming they would all end the season in good form, Zaccheroni could pick 18 players from Japan's European legion:

GK: Eiji Kawashima

DF: Maya Yoshida, Yuki Abe, Tomoaki Makino, Atsuto Uchida, Yuto Nagatomo, Michihiro Yasuda

MF: Akihiro Ienaga, Makoto Hasebe, Keisuke Honda, Shinji Kagawa, Daisuke Matsui, Takahito Soma, Hajime Hosogai

FW: Takayuki Morimoto, Kisho Yano, Ryo Miyaichi, Shinji Okazaki

To the above, Zaccheroni could probably add goalkeeper Shuichi Gonda and defender Yasuyuki Konno of FC Tokyo, as the capital's club is expected to dominate the domestic second division, and could probably do without them for a few weeks.

With another two or three youngsters from the second division or from the highly competitive Japanese University League, the Samurai Blue would still have a high calibre team, with the only regrettable absence being that of Yasuhito Endo, still at Gamba Osaka.

To travel to Argentina without him and some other J-Leaguers, such as forwards Tadanari Lee and Ryoichi Maeda, is not an ideal situation, but surely it would hurt Japanese football much less than turning down the chance to play in one of the most prestigious tournaments in the world.

The JFA will stick with the decision to participate to the Copa America, to which it was invited, hoping that the Japanese national team will bring more pride and joy to its people.

Written with contributions from Akito Dalby, Dodi Levine and Ariel Blanco

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