NATAL, BRAZIL - Japan failed to capitalize on its one-man advantage and had to make due with a 0-0 draw against 10-man Greece as both teams picked up their first point in Group C on Thursday night.
Japan dominated possession after Konstantinos Katsouranis was sent off in the first half, but the Asian champions were unable to find a way past a resilient, well-drilled Greek defense at Estadio das Dunas (Dunes Stadium).
Colombia leads the group with six points and have secured qualification for the knockout stage after a 2-1 win over Cote d’Ivoire, which has three points.
Japan faces Colombia and Greece takes on Cote d’Ivoire in the final round of Group C games on June 24th.
Although Japan still has a mathematical chance of making the knockout round, Japan coach Alberto Zaccheroni admitted his team should have put themselves in a better position to advance by beating the Greeks.
“This is a game that we had been preparing to win but we played too slowly,” said Zaccheroni. “In the second half we had more men than them but didn’t get the ball forward quickly enough.
“We are not satisfied with the number of points we have at this stage of the tournament. This evening we pushed very hard to try and win the game. We have one more match to go, but based on our performances so far, I am not happy at all.”
Zaccheroni made a bold but sensible decision to bench Manchester United midfielder Shinji Kagawa, ineffective in Saturday’s opening 2-1 defeat to Cote d’Ivoire, and bring in fiery 2013 J. League Golden Boot winner Yoshito Okubo.
Okubo started on the right and Shinji Okazaki switched flanks while Yasuyuki Konno replaced Masato Morishige in central defense in the only other change to the team that squandered a one-goal lead against the Ivorians on Saturday in Recife.
Okubo made his presence felt in a fairly even first half, winning a free kick for Keisuke Honda, who stung the palms of Greece goalkeeper Orestis Karnezis in the 29th minute.
“They were down one man and became really defensive, but we had a lot of opportunities in the second half and we could have won if we had finished,” said Okubo.
“We were able to pass the ball in midfield so we have to practice feeding the ball (to the front). It (the draw) is such a waste and a shame.”
Yuya Osako, who kept his place up front despite a quiet game against Cote d’Ivoire, had also gone close on a couple of occasions, while the 32-year-old Okubo headed over the bar in the 33rd minute.
Greece was reduced to 10 men seven minutes before the break, when captain Katsouranis was given his second yellow for a mistimed challenge on Makoto Hasebe.
Yet the former European champions looked dangerous on the break and despite their numerical disadvantage, nearly took the lead five minutes before halftime, but Japan goalkeeper Eiji Kawashima pulled off a fantastic save to deny Vasileios Torosidis.
Zaccheroni sent Yasuhito Endo on for Hasebe after the break and made a tactical switch in the 57th minute, bringing on Kagawa for Osako and moving Okazaki into the lone striker’s role.
Greece again threatened to break the deadlock through a Theofanis Gekas header, but Kagawa looked sharp when he came on and was involved in a neat move that Okubo was unable to finish on 68 minutes, blazing off target at the far post.
Okubo brought a fine stop out of Karnezis in the 77th minute but there was to be no breakthrough as Greece comfortably dealt with the high balls being pumped into the box.
“In the first half we started well and created some situations and a better final pass could have resulted in a goal,” said Greece coach Fernando Santos.
“After the sending off, Japan dominated possession in the second half and although we were unable to counter I thought we defended with courage.”