Natal: Japan was held to a 0-0 draw by 10-man Greece, as both sides kept alive slim hopes of qualification from World Cup Group C. Greek captain Konstantinos Katsouranis was dismissed for two bookable fouls in the first-half but the European side managed to keep it tight for 90 minutes.
During the course of the match, it was Greece that posed more of an attacking threat and the Europeans went close after the restart. Unfortunately for the Greeks, a header from Thoefanis Gekas was saved by Japan stopper Eiji Kawashima.
Japan, with Manchester United midfielder Shinji Kagawa relegated to the bench, also had its chances to break the deadlock. Yoshito Okubo missed from just a couple of yards as teammate Atsuto Uchida also failed to find the target.
Although both teams will be frustrated at failing to take three points, both have a point each heading into the last matches of the group phase. Greece can also take a positive from the game as the Mediterranean outfit managed to keep a clean sheet for the first time in a World Cup finals encounter.
Japan has the daunting prospect of having to beat Colombia in the final match, but the blow will be softened by the fact yesterday’s draw put the South American side through to the knock-out stages. A win for Japan could take the Asian side above Côte d’Ivoire, which has three points.
Greece must defeat the African team and hope that the other result is a favourable one. Nevertheless, viewers who saw the second 0-0 match in a World Cup tournament that has otherwise seen an average of three goals per game will not hold out much hope for these two sides.
Despite the fact Panagiotis Kone came close when he forced a save from Kawashima, Japan was pretty much in control from the outset. Yuya Osako’s 25-yard effort went wide before Keisuke Honda’s free-kick was saved well by Orestis Kanezis. Yoshito Okubo then headed over the bar from Yuto Nagatomo’s cross.
Things went from bad to worse for Greece. Already struggling to keep Japan at bay, Fulham striker Konstantinos Mitroglu limped off with an injury. No sooner had that happened, Katsouranis was sent off for lunging at Makoto Hasebe.
Surprisingly, the red card for a second bookable foul seemed to have a positive impact on Greece as defender Vaileios Torosidis came close with a powerful effort. Georgios Samaras also came close straight after the second-half began but he screwed his chance wide.
Although Greece was a man down for more than half of the match, it continued to have the better of the chances. However, Japan should have taken the lead when Atsuto Uchida’s cross was fired wide by Okubo two yards out. In the end, both sides looked like punch-drunk boxers and 0-0 was probably a fair result in this World Cup Group C encounter. Whether either side is ready for a last 16 place is debatable. The two sides that do make it through to the last 16 will face the two sides that make it out of Group D. Italy, Uruguay and Costa Rica all have three points each, with England propping up the table having failed to register a single point so far.
Commentary by Robert Shepherd