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Japan made a disappointing start to its Confederations Cup campaign with a 2-1 defeat to Mexico in their Group B opener on Thursday.

News photoJapan’s Takayuki Chano and Mexico’s Francisco Fonseca vie for the ball during
their opening match at the Confederations Cup in Hanover, Germany.

Atsushi Yanagisawa fired Japan into a 12th-minute lead at Stadium Hanover but a superb equalizer from Zinha and a second-half header from Jose Fonseca gave Mexico all three points and left Zico’s side with an uphill task to reach the semifinals.

World Cup winner Brazil stormed to the top of the group after goals from Adriano, Robinho and substitute Juninho Pernambucano saw it rip apart European champion Greece 3-0 in the day’s other match.

Japan, which just over a week ago became the first team to join host Germany in next year’s World Cup finals, started brightly but the effects of its recent qualifying matches in Asia started to show as the game wore on and they never looked like finding a way back.

Coach Zico, however, refused to put the defeat down to fatigue and blamed his team’s lack of a killer instinct in front of goal.

“I think it was the Mexicans who defeated us, not tiredness. We should have scored a second goal. We had some counterattacks but we just couldn’t score,” said Zico.

“Mexico equalized and had some opportunities and we had also had some chances to score and that’s what happens. I’m calm about this and we will go off and prepare for our next game against Greece,” added the Brazilian.

Zico reverted to a 3-4-2-1 system used to good effect against Bahrain on June 3 with Jubilo Iwata defender Takayuki Chano the only change to the side that won 1-0 in Manama.

Japan welcomed back Serie A stars Hidetoshi Nakata and Shunsuke Nakamura along with Brazilian-born winger Alex Santos, who were all suspended when Japan secured World Cup qualification with a 2-0 win over North Korea eight days ago in Bangkok.

Chano, in for injured Yuji Nakazawa, gave Japan a couple of worrying moments in defense early on, but they settled into their rhythm and Yanagisawa grabbed his second goal in as many matches to give the Asian champion the lead after a flowing move.

Mitsuo Ogasawara sent Akira Kaji sprinting down the right flank with a sublime pass and the latter crossed for Yanagisawa to bundle home at the near post.

Mexico had looked lethargic until Jared Borgetti brought a fine reaction save out of Yoshikatsu Kawaguchi with a point-blank header in the 27th minute, but Zinha leveled with an early contender for goal of the tournament.

The Toluca midfielder picked up a pass from Salvador Carmona 20 meters out and let fly with a rasping drive that flew beyond the helpless Kawaguchi and into the top right-hand corner.

Mexico upped the tempo after the interval and Borgetti saw a header come back off the post in the 57th minute with Kawaguchi beaten, before Fonseca rose to head home Luis Perez’ cross and extend his side’s unbeaten streak to 19 matches.

“I think we were well organized and moved very well and had very good ball control, which was obviously very important,” said Mexico coach Ricardo La Volpe.

Japan moves to Frankfurt to play Greece on Sunday and then faces Brazil on June 22 in Cologne.

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