Greece escaped the Arena das Dunas with an unlikely point as they drew 0-0 with Japan on Thursday night.
Spurning several good chances, the Japanese team couldn’t take advantage of their extra man after Greek captain Kostas Katsouranis was sent off during the first half.
A draw puts these teams’ respective destinies in the hands of the other because they both failed to win their opening games in Group C. Colombia qualify for the next stage but the Ivory Coast are still within reach so results on the 24 June will decide who advances alongside the South Americans.
STORY OF THE GAME
The match took a while to get going, with both sides content to hold their defensive lines deep. Japan fashioned the best opening chance after almost 20 minutes when Yuya Osako cut inside from the left wing and curled a long range effort inches wide of the post. Goalkeeper Orestis Karnezis, who spent this season on loan at Granada from Udinese, dived hard to his left but was never getting close and was relieved to see the ball dip out of play.
Each sides’ patient build-up play and a lack of closing down from either set of midfielders was encouraging a lot of space on the edge of the box, meaning many of the first half exchanges were from outside the penalty area. However, when the ball did manage to find its way into the final 18 yards there were some tense moments.
The best of which came when Keisuke Honda clipped a powerful free-kick over the wall that was only parried by Karnezis but the goalkeeper recovered well to punch the ball away from Yoshito Okubo following up.
The Greeks didn’t get much luck in attack with Fulham striker Konstantinos Mitroglou struggling on his own up front and then lost him to injury after only half an hour. His replacement Theofanis Gekas was much quicker and looked likely to cause trouble until just before half time.
Katsouranis was given his marching orders with a second yellow card after 38 minutes for tripping opposition captain Makoto Hasebe as he started to break away. Clearly not one for learning lessons, his first card had come for a similar trip on Osako nine minutes previously. Winger Ioannis Fetfatzidis, who had done little to impress, was sacrificed allowing Giorgos Karagounis to plug the gap left by his petulant captain. The team shifted into a 4-4-1 formation until half time where they could regroup and try to continue without the man who so often is the protagonist of their defensive style of football.
Sensing an opportunity to snatch the win, Japan coach Alberto Zaccheroni replaced Hasebe – who looked like he had taken a knock – with Yasuhito Endo at half time. Shortly afterwards he brought Manchester United’s Shinji Kagawa on to try and overload the centre of the pitch.
The change of system seemed to slow the game more than expected, which favoured the Greek approach and they created more as the game wore on. Their best opportunity presented itself to Gekas, who nodded a corner down at the far post only to see Eiji Kawashima push the ball wide.
Entering the last 20 minutes Greece were forced into a 4-1-4 as Japan’s fullbacks – Yuto Nagatomo and Atsuto Uchida – charged forwards with possession swinging heavily in their favour. Uchida almost scored when Sokratis Papastathopoulos couldn’t get the ball out of his feet inside his own box. While he evaded one challenge, a heavy touch presented the ball perfectly for the attacking right-back to blast narrowly wide.
As fatigue became a factor the game was a real end-to-end affair with chances falling quickly for both sides. Okubo forced Karnezis into a low save from all of 35 yards before a neat corner kick saw Georgios Samaras send a free header wide of the post. When Japan had the ball the match resembled a game of handball, with one attacking team switching the ball from side to side looking for a way through the defensive line. When Greece stole it back they sent a few men bursting forwards in the hope that they could catch their opponents on the counter.
Right at the end either team could have taken all three points but Jose Holebas was denied by Kawashima and then Endo had a low free-kick tipped away by Karnezis.
PLAYER RATINGS (OUT OF 10)
Eiji Kawashima – 7: Not called upon often, but made some good saves when he was.
Atsuto Uchida – 6: Made several good runs from deep but missed a golden chance to finish the game.
Maya Yoshida – 6: Overall a solid game, commanding presence in the back four and got forward well towards the end of the game.
Yasuyuki Konno – 5: Was dominated in the air but managed to keep a clean sheet. Didn’t see much of him throughout.
Yuto Nagatomo – 7: Did a good job of getting forward from left-back the whole game and started a lot of attacks.
Hotaru Yamaguchi – 6: One of the brightest players but didn’t get much support going forwards, tired a lot as the game went on.
Makoto Hasebe (Capt.) – 4: Not a captain’s performance. He was slow, looked for too many complicated passes with an easy option open and often got caught in possession. Replaced at half time by Yasuhito Endo.
Shinji Okazaki – 5: Didn’t see too much of him despite a willingness to attack in the early stages.
Keisuke Honda – 6: A great attacker but used in the wrong position. Free-kicks were dangerous but not clinical enough in open play.
Yoshito Okubo – 6: Usually following up loose balls and had a good work rate but lacked the precision needed to supply much to the other forwards.
Yuya Osako – 4: In a game that demanded goals, he didn’t step up and deliver. Didn’t make the right runs or carry the ball too often. Replaced by Shinji Kagawa just before the hour.
Orestis Karnezis – 8: Kept Greece in the match with several good saves. Earned the team’s first ever World Cup clean sheet.
Vasileios Torosidis – 6: Ageing fullback got forward well but was exposed as game went on. Did well to set up chances on quick breaks.
Konstantinos Manolas – 7: A solid member of the defence that had to work hard to deny Japan. Aerially dominant and timed his challenges well all night.
Sokratis Papastathopoulos – 6: Almost gifted opposition a goal at the end but overall a good performance from the Dortmund centre-back.
Jose Holebas – 6: Gave as good as he got in tackles and in the air. Adapted to pressure well and showed great desire to keep running but mistakes crept in as fatigue got to him.
Ioannis Fetfatzidis – 5: Replaced by Giorgos Karagounis as cover for red card, hadn’t been effective enough on the wing.
Ioannis Maniatis – 7: Adjusted brilliantly to going a man down, kept midfield in check and worked hard to break forward whenever possible.
Kostas Katsouranis (Capt.) – 3: Sent off for two bookable offences, one could have warranted a straight red. Not a clever night for the captain; bad decision making and laziness almost cost his team.
Panagiotis Kone – 6: Provided a threat with his shooting ability and passing but never got forward enough. Replaced by Dimitris Salpingidis later in the match.
Georgios Samaras – 5: Expected more from the big number seven but he never came close to troubling Kawashima. A weak header was the highlight of his poor night as well as a few shots from range.
Konstantinos Mitroglou – 3: Struggled to get into the game and injured in the first half. Replaced by Theofanis Gekas after 35 minutes.
MAN OF THE MATCH
Orestis Karnezis. Without their goalkeeper in top form Greece would never have been able to get a point from this match. He was calm, commanding and managed to save everything thrown at him. They might not have been the most comfortable of saves, but he kept the ball out and recovered well if he spilt the ball. Goalkeeping is about reacting to different situations and he handled himself brilliantly in the circumstances.