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Argentina pull out of re-arranged Copa America

© Reuters Limited 2001

By Brian Homewood

BUENOS AIRES, July 6 (Reuters) - Argentina, South America's top team, pulled out of the Copa America on Thursday after organisers who last week had postponed the event until 2002 changed their minds and said it would start next Wednesday.

"Argentina will not go because we cannot confirm the team," said spokesman Raul Steimberg. Earlier, Argentina Football Association (AFA) president Julio Grondona said the squad could not play next week because the players were sent on holiday when the South American Football Confederation (CSF) postponed its showpiece event last Saturday.

Argentina's absence means the Copa America will be irrelevent in deciding the "champions of America" and leaves the CSF with an awkward number of 11 teams in its competition. It also means that only Canada, Bolivia and Uruguay will compete in group C in Medellin, with two of the three going into the next round.

The teams in group A are Chile, Ecuador, Colombia and Venezuela, while Peru, Paraguay, Brazil and Mexico will compete in group B. The CSF did not comment on whether it would re-distribute the groups or alter the rules to compensate for Argentina's absence.

Even before the postponment, Argentina had planned to send a reserve team to the tournament after deciding to focus their priorities on the World Cup qualifying competition. Other teams said they would go but admitted they had been caught on the hop and were frantically trying to reassemble squads which had been dispersed when the Copa was postponed last Saturday. "It's going to be difficult now because some of our players are on holiday," said Mexico midfielder Cesario Victorino.

Mexican Football Federation official Alejandro Burillo said: "(coach) Javier Aguirre had two plans, one if there was a Copa and one if there wasn't." Chile coach Pedro Garcia said: "This isn't the best way of doing things but we have to take risks, improvise and adapt to certain situations. I think this was the least bad of all the options."

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