In the fourth game of the FIFA Confederations Cup Germany 2005, Japan take on Mexico in what, on paper, looks like being one of the closest encounters in the competition.

Both the Asian and CONCACAF champions have cause for confidence heading into the event although Mexico coach Ricardo Lavolpe will be without four players for this Group B game against Zico's hard-working team. Forwards Omar Bravo and Alberto Medina together with midfielder Ramon Morales and goalkeeper Jose Corona have all been on club duty for Chivas in the Copa Libertadores and therefore are only expected in Germany hours before the kick-off in Hanover.

That could leave the CONCACAF Gold Cup winners in some difficulty should they need to change their system during the match, particularly if Japan go ahead. Lavolpe has been known to adopt a 4-3-3 formation with Medina and Morales joining Jared Borgetti in attack, if the going gets tough, but now that particular luxury is unavailable to the Argentinian coach.

Lack of options for Mexico
The players likely to feature on the bench play in a similar way to those expected to start. For Mario Mendez read Salvador Carmona. Juan Pablo Rodriguez does an near-identical job to Luiz Perez, while Rafael Marquez Lugo is a centre-forward in the same mould as Borgetti.

While Gonzalo Pineda and Gerrado Torrado can offer a bit more versatility, Zico has the freedom to bring on the players he needs to and alter his tactics if required. Junichi Inamoto, Takayuki Suzuki and Masashi Oguro, a young striker who has scored two goals in his three appearances so far for the Asian champions, are ready and willing to make their mark on this tournament.

Mexico, who have not lost in 18 matches prior this fixture, will be slight favourites going into it, but Japan could be in a position to take advantage of the absences affecting the Central American side. The game will also witness a battle between two unusual tactical systems as Japan are expected to play a 3-4-2-1 system in an attempt to combat Mexico's 3-2-2-1-2 formation.

Whereas most of the teams in the FIFA Confederations Cup will opt to play the more orthodox 4-4-2, 4-5-1 or 4-3-3 systems, this clash will leave the technical analysts drooling with anticipation. Of all the battles on the park, the one between wide men Carmona and Jaime Lozano of Mexico and Japan's Akira Kaji and Alex Santos looks to be one to savour. Those players are good going forward and are equally adept at their defensive duties.

Looking to past examples
History favours the Mexicans. The two teams have only met three times at senior level with Mexico winning twice. The Asian giants won their sides' first meeting 3-2 in Fukuoka. Two years later, Mexico ran out 2-1 winners in Lausanne, while the last meeting between the teams ended in a narrow 1-0 victory for El Tri in Hong Kong in February 2000.

Another curious fact is that in all three of Japan's first matches in a FIFA Confederations Cup competition, the final score was 3-0. In 1995, they lost by that score to Nigeria, in 2001 they defeated Canada and two years ago they overcame New Zealand.

Confidence from the coaches
Japan enter the game on a high after becoming the first team to qualify for Germany 2006 last week after beating Korea DPR 2-0 in Bangkok. In fact, they have won ten of their eleven qualifying matches so far; their record was only blemished by a 2-1 reversal at the hands of Iran. "The resilience and mental powers of this team are very special," said Zico. "We've qualified for the World Cup. Now we can take that momentum into the Confederations Cup."

Meanwhile Lavolpe is just as confident. "Japan, with their direct style and high-tempo football, are a team that have come on in leaps and bounds in recent years, but we're playing well, we feel strong and we have the right blend of youth and experience and we are obliged to do well in this tournament."

Japan-Mexico may not have the same lure as Brazil-Greece, the battle between the world and European champions, but this game in Hanover could provide a feast of football for neutral fans all over the world.