|Stadium||Arena das Dunas|
Makoto Hasebe (c)
Japan will feel they have done enough to win two games at this World Cup.
Yet they have won none. Defeat by the Ivory Coast was followed by this maddeningly frustrating goalless draw against Greece, who were reduced to 10 men after the dismissal of Kostas Katsouranis. It is a result that keeps both teams in the competition, just about.
The dismissal of Katsouranis for two rash challenges in the space of 11 minutes threatened to weight the game heavily in Japan’s favour. They had made the bold but understandable decision to drop Manchester United’s Shinji Kagawa, the final insult in a year that has left him physically and mentally demoralised.
In fact, that was the penultimate insult; the final insult was that Japan looked far more creative and fluid without him, forging a number of chances in a goalless first half.
Greece’s 4-3-3 left them well-stacked in the centre but potentially vulnerable on the flanks, and so it proved when Yuya Osako cut inside to curl just wide from 20 yards.
A cross from the left found Yoshito Okubo, who headed over the bar. But Greece threatened on the break, Vasilis Torosidis blasting a terrifying firebomb of a shot at Eiji Kawashima’s near post, seeing it saved, and then unleashing a feral roar that hinted at Greece’s growing frustration.
For by then, they were already a man down. Katsouranis had already seen yellow for a cynical foul on Osako. Now he lunged at Makoto Hasebe: a harsh booking on its own, but a downright stupid tackle to make in the circumstances. Off he went.
The second half began with Giorgos Samaras audaciously trying to score straight from the kick-off. That was symptomatic of the Greek approach: swarm forward at pace, leave gaps all over the place at the back. Okubo and Atsuto Uchida both missed wonderful chances from close range. Kagawa made his appearance just before the hour, but again he looked lost, despondent, a man whose peerless talent was little more than a wistful memory.
The closing minutes took on an increasingly frenetic tenor, Japan desperately trying to press their advantage. But as full-time came, Greece were miraculously still alive, and in more ways than one.