The Japanese can exit the FIFA Confederations Cup with their heads held high. They may have been eliminated in the first round of the competition on Wednesday 22 June 2005, but theirs was an difficult group containing not only the world champions and winners of the Copa America (Brazil), but also the European (Greece) and CONCACAF (Mexico) champions.
In drawing with the first of these and beating the second, Zico's charges achieved an honourable outcome of one victory, one draw and one defeat. They finished third on equal points with Brazil, who go into the second round courtesy of their superior goal difference.
In their draw with world champions Brazil, Japan were irresistible, offering an attacking, never-say-die brand of football backed up by exemplary moral values. These considerable qualities enabled them not only to get back into the game twice, but even to come within a whisker of taking the lead. The Japanese attack certainly bared its teeth tonight, their seven shots on target falling just two short of the total of nine goal-bound strikes served up by the 'magicians' Ronaldinho, Robinho, Adriano and Kaka.
Their coach Zico can have genuine cause for optimism: in Nakamura, again voted 'Man of the Match by the FIFA Technical Study Group for his performance against Brazil after already receiving the same accolade against Greece, he has a player of immense talent at his disposal. The same can also be said for the 'super-sub' who replaced him, Masashi Oguro, a goalscorer against the Greeks and again here tonight.
Having picked up points, scored goals, and displayed talent and attacking verve that has won over the public and experts alike, this Japan side leaves Germany with invaluable experience under its belt. For like the Argentines, the Japanese have already qualified for Germany 2006. Next year, they will return brimming with confidence and familiar with the venues. What better preparation could you ask for?