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BELO HORIZONTE, Brazil (AFP) – Despite a gruelling if successful World Cup qualifying campaign Japan came to the Confederations Cup full of hope while expectations were high for fellow Group A aspirants and Olympic champions Mexico.
Yet less than a week into the tournament there is nothing left to play for but pride as the pair prepare to lock horns in Belo Horizonte on Saturday after neither managed to get any change out of hosts Brazil or Italy.
If a passive Japan had shown the kind of fluid and adventurous play they showed in patches against the Italians in Wednesday's thrilling 4-3 defeat in Recife rather than the meek form of their opener which brought a 3-0 defeat by Brazil they might just have had a chance of a semi-final berth.
Likewise, had Mexico not fallen victim to a late Mario Balotelli sucker punch in their first pool game they might have gone into their meeting with the Brazilians believing they could extend a strong recent run against the auriverde which notably brought an Olympic gold medal last year at the Samba stars' expense.
Instead, both sides have zero points and will bow out on the final whistle and whereas Japan at least know they will be back in 12 months for the World Cup the Mexicans still have work to do in their CONCACAF North and Central American zonal qualifying programme following a raft of frustrating draws.
Japan's Italian coach Alberto Zaccheroni said after the loss to the Italians after Surrendering a 2-0 lead that he could take some positives.
"I think we did show we have a lot of personality, though we need to accumulate more experience," he said.
"Japanese football is still very young but they have taken giant steps in recent years. I think the team is growing and improving and our challenge is to close the gap. Italian and Brazilian football has around 100 years more experience than that of Japan," he pointed out.
The Japanese will be without skipper Makoto Hasebe after he picked up a second yellow card against the Italians.
Mexico coach Jose Manuel de la Torre had hoped for greater things but the Italians and Brazilians frustrated the likes of fox in the box Manchester United striker Javier 'Chicharito' Hernandez, who was unable to pose a major threat.
"I thought we did play better against Brazil than we did against Italy," said Hernandez. "Now we need to try to go out with a bang."
Struggling to keep in the race for a World Cup qualifying berth, Mexico also have an eye on next month's Gold Cup which they hope to defend in the United States but De la Torre's priority is closing down a five-point deficit on CONCACAF zonal leaders the United States and a three-point gap on Costa Rica.
"I don't think the Confederations Cup will affect the main business of World Cup qualification, where we must aspire to do better," said de la Torre.