NATAL, BRAZIL – Japan players admitted they were thrown by the first-half red card of Greece captain Konstantinos Katsouranis in Thursday’s lackluster draw, a result that has put the Asian champions on the brink of elimination.
Katsouranis was sent off in the 38th minute for a second booking, seemingly giving Alberto Zaccheroni’s side the advantage, and it did: at least in terms of ball possession.
But the PAOK midfielder’s early exit forced the Greeks to pack the box, making life more difficult for Japan which couldn’t find a way to penetrate the thickened defense.
“It was easier playing them when they had 11,” Japan defender Yuto Nagatomo said. “To be perfectly honest, things became harder when they went down a man. From that point on, all they did was defend and started playing for a draw.
“It wasn’t an advantage.”
Said Yoshito Okubo, who started in place of Shinji Kagawa in attacking midfield, “They parked the bus, big-time. But because they were so deep in their own half, there was plenty of space outside their box and we didn’t take advantage of it.
“We were moving the ball around too much at the back and it was a waste of time. We needed to be crossing straight out of midfield and I was yelling at them to hurry things up, but they couldn’t hear me.
“The more we pass it around, the more their defense has time to get set up and we should’ve spotted that.”
After firing nothing but blanks over the 90 minutes in wind and scattered rain, Japan was booed off the pitch by the crowd of 39,485.
Nagatomo said the team deserved to hear it because the game is about putting the ball into the net, which Japan miserably failed to do.
“We’re playing for our country and we receive so much support. After a performance like this, we have to accept the boos,” the Inter Milan man said.
“They had every man behind the ball but we were kind of worried about their counterattacks. It’s difficult. But what it comes down to is that we didn’t take our chances when we had them.
“We spent all this time attacking and created a lot of chances but we couldn’t win. It’s such a waste. In football, you have to score goals to win, plain and simple.
“I think we self-destructed. Maybe if we had a bit of luck, we could have had a few but luck wasn’t on our side.”
Okubo spelled it out for his team in black and white: shoot more.
“We should have shot more from outside the box. That’s what I was telling the team the whole time,” the Kawasaki Frontale striker said.