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Chicharito to play for Mexico in Copa America, passing up Olympics

Bayer Leverkusen forward Javier Hernandez celebrates scoring a goal against VfL Wolfsburg in a Bundesliga match on Apr. 1.
Bayer Leverkusen forward Javier Hernandez celebrates scoring a goal against VfL Wolfsburg in a Bundesliga match on Apr. 1.
(Guido Kirchner / EPA)

Mexican soccer star Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez plans to play in June’s Copa America with his country’s senior team rather than August’s Olympic tournament in Brazil, which Mexico will enter as the defending champion.

“The Mexican federation wants me to go to the Copa America,” Hernandez said by phone from Germany, where he is playing for Bayer Leverkusen. “It’s not only my decision. It’s like 50-50, the decision. The federation wants me to go to Copa America and I decided to go to Copa America.

“Not because I don’t want to go to the Olympics. It’s because it’s the best for...my club, for me and for the federation.”

Mexico will open play in the Copa America with a group-stage game against Uruguay in Glendale, Ariz., on June 5 before meeting Jamaica at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena on June 9.

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Hernandez said his German club was also consulted and it too preferred he play in the Copa America. The prestigious 16-team tournament, which will be played in 10 U.S. cities, ends June 26, which will give Hernandez a month to rest before Leverkusen begins preseason training. The Olympic tournament, on the other hand, runs through Aug. 20, which could interfere with Leverkusen’s UEFA Champions League schedule.

Leverkusen is third in the Bundesliga table, two points head of Hertha Berlin, heading into Saturday’s match with Schalke (9:30 a.m., Gol TV). Finishing third would automatically qualify the team for the Champions League but falling to fourth would force Leverkusen to win its way into the tournament in a two-leg playoff beginning in mid August.

Hernandez is Leverkusen’s leading scorer with 16 goals, which ranks fourth in the Bundesliga.

“The most important thing here is what my club as well wanted,” said Hernandez, who has bounced from England’s Manchester United to Spain’s Real Madrid to Leverkusen in the last two seasons. “If we finish fourth, I cannot go to the Olympics. So it’s not my decision. And if we finish third, the thing is I need to do preseason.”

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“So it’s not only my decision. Not only 100% mine,” he continued.

Hernandez had dearly wanted to play in the London Olympics four years ago, but Manchester United refused to release him. Mexico went on to the beat Brazil in the final without Hernandez.

Final Copa America rosters must be set by May 20, six days after the Bundesliga season ends. And until then, Hernandez said his focus will be on his club team.

“The Copa America and the Olympics are very far [off]. You need to be living in the present,” he said. “The present right now is Bayer Leverkusen.”

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Neymar, the Brazilian soccer federation and Barcelona, the player’s Spanish club, had a similar decision to make and went the other way, agreeing to let Neymar play as one of three over-age selections on the Olympic roster, The Brazilians, facing enormous pressure to win their first soccer gold medal at home after a disappointing fourth-place finish in the 2014 World Cup, had asked Barcelona to release Neymar for both events. But the club turned down that request, announcing Wednesday that after several months of negotiation Neymar would play only in the Olympics.

''FC Barcelona expresses its gratitude to the Brazilian Football Confederation and its president Marco Polo del Nero for accepting the Club’s proposal for Neymar Jr to only play at the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro this summer, and not at the Copa America in the United States,’' Barcelona said in a statement.

kevin.baxter@latimes.com

Twitter: @kbaxter11

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