Japan and Mexico can thrive at World Cup
Published: 01.07.13 / Written by: David Gold
They may both be going home after losing their first two games of the Confederations Cup, to hosts Brazil and Italy respectively, but Japan and Mexico have good reason to look back on this tournament and be encouraged.
For Japan, they started sluggishly, being out played by Brazil in the opening game and losing 3-0. There were some moments to encourage, with some good passing and interplay, but they struggled against the hosts, whose strength and pace was too much for them. Japan, just arrived after a long flight, could point to that as a reason for some sluggishness as well.
The Japanese then produced a marvellous display in the next game against Italy. They took the game to the Europeans, out passing, out thinking and out running their opponents. They were slick, their passing was quick and they had the Italians chasing shadows. Shinji Kagawa was excellent, Keisuke Honda likewise, and Italy were struggling to contain them. It was no surprise when they opened the scoring, even though it was a contentious penalty that they took advantage of to open the scoring.
Then Shinji Kagawa fired home after a corner, and they were cruising. Full of confidence, they produced some wonderful football and could have made it three as the Italians were shellshocked. As it was, Italy came back before half time, a goal from Daniele de Rossi from a corner giving them barely deserved reason for optimism. Then came a strike from Sebastien Giovinco, who had just come on, which hit the post. After half time a quick own goal brought the scores level, before a completely unfair penalty was given to Italy and converted by Mario Balotelli.
Yet the Japanese still dominated, played the better football and equalised through Shinji Okazaki, and hit the post three times in the half, including twice in the space of a few seconds at one point. A goal was disallowed too as the Italians led a charmed life. But then they got a winner after a slick move with Giovinco winning it for them. Undeserved, as most the Italian team acknowledged, but Japan can be heartened. They should be a real force in Brazil next year.
Mexico can be too, although they have some serious issues to deal with. Jose Manuel de la Torre is fighting for his job after one win in eleven games in 2013. They are struggling towards qualification for Brazil. They should make it to the World Cup, as they always do, but they are making far harder work of it than should be necessary.
In Brazil for the Confederations Cup, they showed promise and enterprise against Italy, but lacked a cutting edge in the final third. Against Brazil too, they showed similar promise. Against the hosts, they fell behind early on but dominated for long periods. As de la Torre noted, they were not incisive enough in the crucial areas of the pitch. Giovani dos Santos was a constant thorn for Brazil and he will be a key player next year. But on the balance of play, Mexico did well against both Italy and Brazil and will give most teams a run for their money next year, particularly as they can play much better still and have a host of youngsters who are coming through having won some major international tournaments such as the FIFA under 17 World Cup and the Olympics in London last year.
So these are two sides who are going home early but have plenty of reason to be happy with their showings in Brazil. Both will be back, almost certainly, and will be serious contenders when it comes to the final stages next year. It is very unlikely that either can win it, but if anyone from outside Europe or South America is to break their stranglehold on the World Cup, it is one of these two talented young teams.