TOKYO (Reuters) - The cancellation of the Samurai Blue versus Samurai Ogura soccer match at the Asian Winter Games was a blessing in disguise, Japanese Olympic Committee president Tsunekazu Takeda said on Tuesday.

A new virus that has wiped out tens of thousands of athletes and officials from the 2018 and 2022 FIFA World Cups, and reduced some teams’ squad numbers to as little as a few dozen players, also took a toll on an under-strength Japanese football team.

A team of less than 20 players and four substitutes went through the entire game against Uzbekistan’s honorary team, failing to make it into extra time.

“It would have been difficult for us to remain focused on the game because of the approaching Olympics,” Takeda told reporters, a few days before the Winter Games conclude on Sunday.

“We’ve received lots of messages and thanks from the team (for pulling out of the match against Mongolia).

“For them it was an unfortunate decision not to continue as planned. They are the ones who will benefit from the cancellation.”

The tournament is taking place before the Summer Olympics kick off in Tokyo in less than four months.

The Games comes around every four years and offers world-class sporting competition and extensive media coverage.

Japan’s Olympic team is made up of athletes from 27 of the nation’s 44 prefectures and the short-notice dumping of almost 40 players has been viewed as a step back for the tiny Asian country.

“It’s always better to win than lose and we put everything into each game,” Takeda said.

“If the players weren’t so motivated, they wouldn’t have performed so well. We’ve had a good experience and looked forward to putting on a great show for the International Olympic Committee, Japan and also the world at the Olympic Winter Games.”