Yoshito Okubo of Japan controls the ball against Giorgos Samaras of Greece during the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil Group C match between Japan and Greece at Estadio das Dunas on June 20, 2014 in Natal, Brazil. Photo: Getty Image
Group C, Match 4
Greece held on for a goalless draw against Japan in Natal on Thursday, ensuring Colombia will play in the round of 16 in Brazil, reports Goal.com.
Despite playing the entire second half with a numerical disadvantage after skipper Kostas Katsouranis was expelled seven minutes before half-time, Greece denied the misfiring Japanese at the Arena das Dunas as both teams picked up their first points of the World Cup.
Katsouranis went into the book for the first time in the 27th minute when he slid into the back of Yuya Osako and his trip to halt Japan captain Makoto Hasebe's break 11 minutes later was the end of his match.
The draw saw Colombia, who had defeated Ivory Coast 2-1 earlier on Thursday, secure a berth in the knockout stages at their first World Cup since 1998, as they lead Group C with six points with one game to play.
The most intriguing selection for Greece was that coach Fernando Santos stuck with Giannis Maniatis despite the Olympiacos defensive midfielder having threatened to leave Brazil on Wednesday after a training ground argument.
Maniatis retained his spot in defensive midfield, while Kostas Mitroglou and Ioannis Fetfatzidis replaced Theofanis Gekas and Dimitris Salpigidis respectively.
Japan coach Alberto Zaccheroni made the brave decision of dropping Shinji Kagawa for Yoshito Okubo, while Yasuyuki Konno took Masato Morishige's spot in central defence.
Kagawa had been largely invisible against Ivory Coast but the sight of him on the bench at the Arena das Dunas was still a shock, with the playmaker having started all but one of his country's last 12 matches.
Both teams had pledged to attack in Natal after losing their opening games of the World Cup but 10 minutes passed before the first genuine chance was created; Panagiotis Kone driving through midfield before shooting powerfully straight at Eiji Kawashima.
Japan had over 75 per cent possession in the first half but generally struggled to test Orestis Karnezis with Okubo shooting tamely at Greece's goalkeeper and curling another effort wide either side of the 20-minute mark, before the game changed in the 38th minute, when Katsouranis was sent off.
With his team down to 10, Santos made two changes before half-time, sacrificing Fetfatzidis and Mitroglou for Giorgos Karagounis and Gekas respectively.
At the break, Zaccheroni brought on Yasuhito Endo for Hasebe in a bid to insert some creativity into Japan's line-up, before Kagawa was recalled in the 57th minute at the expense of Osako.
But despite the two substitutions, Japan still struggled to break down Greece's stubborn defence.
The Asian nation bombarded Greece's goal, with Okubo wasting the best chance when he blazed wide in the 68th minute, but the Europeans desperately held on to frustrate Zaccheroni's side and leave both teams needing a win in their final game to advance from Group C.
Man of the Match: K Honda (JPN)
Match Commentary - as it happened
FULL TIME - Japan 0-0 Greece: Zaccheroni's men dominated possession throughout but even after the Ethniki were reduced to 10 men in the 38th minute they failed to make it count. The Greeks put up a solid fight, containing their opponents and holding on for a point which keeps the hopes of progression for both teams alive. Colombia, though, are now through to the knockout stages.
90` + 5` There is the final whistle!
90` + 4` Another centre from Japan, but Yoshida drags down Sokratis in his desperation to get on the end of it and concedes a free kick. Time is all but up here.
90` + 3` A long ball into the area is aimed towards Yoshida, who is staying up top for a few moments. However, he is blocked off and Karnezis is able to claim the ball without any fuss.
90` + 2` Japan break through the middle but Honda's final ball up to Okazaki is poor and Manolas is comfortably able to hold off his opponent and hoof away the danger. The Samurai Blue will keep on coming, though!
90` + 1` We are into the first of an additional four minutes!
90` KARNEZIS MAKES AN IMPORTANT STOP! Endo strikes the free kick, keeping it low and trying to pick out the bottom corner on the keeper's side. Fortunately for the Greek he hadn't committed to scurrying over to the other side and was able to palm the effort away.
89` KAWASHIMA! The keeper is forced to make a block at his near post after Salpingidis worked his way into a shooting position on the left. Japan break and Torosidis both fouls Okazaki and handballs just outside his own box. He is shown a yellow card, and yet another set play opportunity for Japan. Much more in shooting range, though, this one.
88` Yellow Card Vasilis Torosidis
87` Japan are pushing more numbers up the pitch now as they desperately seek a late winner. Their ingenuity and finishing has been fairly woeful this evening, though.
85` THAT WAS A CHANCE! Nagatomo picks up the ball on the left of the box and after shifting it onto his right he hammers a shot towards the far post. It is heading wide but Yoshida gets in it's line and tries to steer it towards goal. He doesn't have enough time to adjust, though, and the ball sails over the top.
83` That's better from Uchida, though, as he puts a couple of decent crosses into the box. However, there is no one attacking them for the Samurai Blue. They don't look like getting a late goal, and you can just imagine Greece scoring one as a real sucker punch.
82` Kagawa again gets in behind Holebas out on the right and pulls the ball back, but Uchida's first touch is poor and Greece manage to scramble the it away.
81` Substitution: Panagiotis Kone out, Dimitris Salpingidis in.
81` SAMARAS! Karagounis' corner is once more on the money, but Samaras fails to direct it onto the target with his header. He puts his hands over his face and rightly so. He should have done far better there.
79` Salpingidis looks ready to enter the fray, but the referee is making him wait before coming on. His pace could be a shock to the Japanese defenders in the closing stages.
77`KARNEZIS! Finally the Greece keeper is called into action! A strong effort from distance by Okubo is absolutely drilled towards the bottom corner. Karnezis does well to get down low to his right and parry the ball behind for a corner.
76` It is sent to the back post but Konno commits a foul in his attempts to connect with it and yet again the chance goes begging. Under 15 minutes remaining for either side to find a winner now.
75` Okubo wins another free kick for Japan, this time out on the right as he is hauled to ground by Holebas. What can they make of it?
73` Another important block from Manolas! Greece continue to repel the Japanese, and it is likely that doing that will offer them their best chance of making it through to the round of 16. A draw here and a win over Ivory Coast would be enough, providing Japan didn't beat Colombia!
71` WHAT A CHANCE FOR UCHIDA! Sokratis is far too casual inside his own area and in his attempts to turn away from Okazaki, he opens up a chance for Uchida to steal in. The right-back slides to connect with the ball but is unable to steer it on target.
70` Around 20 minutes remaining in the game now. This result would actually send Colombia through to the next round, meaning one less place would be available for progression.
69` WHAT A MISS! OKUBO SHOULD SCORE! Kagawa ghosts in behind Holebas and cushions a long ball across the face of goal. Okubo meets it at the back post and although from a slightly acute angle, he skies it well off target. That was Japan's best opportunity of the night.
68` Another free kick, another shot straight into the wall. This really isn't good enough!
66` Time is running out for Japan. They continue to dominate possession but are utterly bereft of creativity - not something you'd expect with both Honda and Kagawa on the field. The Ethniki, to their credit, are doing a good job of limiting the space and hassling the opposition as quickly as possible.
64` Maniatis is doing a great job in midfield for Greece tonight. He has not stopped running and always seems to be in the right place to break down any Samurai Blue attack. Here, he makes another important tackle on Honda to halt him in his tracks.
62` Okubo concedes a free kick on the left and it gives Greece the chance to get the ball into the danger area again. Holebas flights it in but the Japan defence deal with the delivery capably. Set plays have been sub-par from both outfits tonight.
60` KAWASHIMA!! Important save from the keeper! A great spell of pressure from Greece sees them secure three corners in succession. From the third, Karagounis' delivery is nodded goalwards by Gekas, but Kawashima dives down to his right and claws it out of the bottom corner. The subsequent delivery leads to nothing.
58` Maybe Zaccheroni understands the opportunity presented to his team tonight: Kagawa enters the fray in place of Osako.
57` Substitution: Yuya Osako out, Shinji Kagawa in.
56` Honda steps back and looks confident, but Endo quickly steps up and fires the free kick straight into the wall. Yet another set play goes to waste. It doesn't seem that Japan feel they need a goal as urgently as perhaps they do. The World Cup campaign of both nations hangs in the balance.
54` Yellow Card Georgios Samaras
54` Another free kick for Japan! This time the foul is by Samaras who is tricked by Okubo's quick feet and concedes a free kick in a central area, 30 yards from goal. Will this be the one?
53` Honda spots a pocket of space in the middle, 25 yards out from goal, and darts into it. He receives the ball but his first touch isn't great. It allows Karagounis the chance to chase back in and put pressure on him as he shoots, and his effort is easy for Karnezis to deal with.
51` Honda moves away and Endo curls one to the back post, but it is too far ahead of all of his team-mates and it goes out for a goal kick to the Ethniki. Japan haven't made the most of their set pieces.
50` Kone loses track of Nagatomo as the full-back steps inside from the left and so he decides to pull him to ground. Japan have another chance to get the ball in the area from here...
48` Yoshida tries to spread the play with a diagonal ball out to the right but he puts too much on it and ends up knocking it straight out for a goal kick. Zaccheroni steps up on the touchline and seems to gesture for more width from his team.
46` Substitution: Makoto Hasebe out, Yasuhito Endō in.
46` BOLD EFFORT! Straight from the kick off Samaras spots Kawashima off his line and attempts to find the net straight away. The keeper scrambles back but can be relieved as the effort strays wide of his net. What a way to start the second half!
HALF TIME - Japan 0-0 Greece: The Samurai Blue enjoyed over 75% possession in the first period, but as of yet Karnezis has barely been tested. With the Ethniki now down to 10 men their gameplan of containing the Japanese with a tough defence won't change, but will they be able to hold out for another 45 minutes? Both sides will want to win, so join me shortly for the second half.
45` + 3` The referee blows his whistle to signal the end of the first half!
45` + 1` We are into the first of an additional two minutes.
45` That was a chance! Karagounis floats in a great free kick from deep and it finds Torosidis in the centre, eight yards out from goal. The right-back is facing away from goal and flicks it on with his head, but when he turns he sees the ball bouncing outside the post.
43` You would expect the Ethniki to step up their attempts to contain the opposition now that they are down to 10 men. Their best hope of earning a result will likely come from the counterattack.
41` Substitution: Loannis Fetfatzidis out, Georgios Karagounis in.
41` It proves to be Fetfatzidis' last contribution as he is replaced by Giorgos Karagounis, who earns his 137th cap. Incredible.
40` WHAT A SAVE! Japan seem to have taken their mind off the game following that red card and it allows Greece a chance to push up. Fetfatzidis has his first shot blocked but his second, a powerful left-foot strike, is turned around the post by a strong hand from Kawashima.
Photo: Getty Images
38` Yellow/Red Kostas Katsouranis
RED CARD FOR KATSOURANIS! The midfielder picks up his second yellow card of the game for a late challenge on Hasebe in midfield. He got none of the ball, and two poor tackles in the first half sees him sent for an early bath. Greece down to 10 men.
36` Nagatomo breaks away down the left for Japan and whips a decent ball into the centre for Osako, but Sokratis steps in front and hoofs away the danger. The Borussia Dortmund man has been an absolute rock so far.
35` Substitution: Konstantinos Mitroglou out, Theofanis Gekas in.
35` Well, perhaps that elbow to the hip is causing Mitroglou more discomfort than first thought, as he has now been replaced by Theofanis Gekas.
34` Nagatomo pushes up and gets a delivery in for the first time this evening and he manages to pick out Okubo's late run into the box. The header lacks the same precision, though, and is sent high and wide behind the goal.
33` Play eventually continues and sure enough Mitroglou trots back onto the pitch. Japan continue to hold onto possession, but Greece are remaining disciplined at the back and proving extremely difficult to break down.
31` Mirtoglou is down and receiving treatent after seemingly catching an elbow from the unawares Hasebe. There wasn't an awful lot in that one to be honest, and I'm sure he will be just fine to continue.
29` SHAKY FROM KARNEZIS! Honda flights a free kick on target from 25 yards and the keeper gets across to it. However, he is unable to hold the effort but does just enough to deny Okubo from making anything of it on the follow-up.
27` Yellow Card Kostas Katsouranis
27` Maniatis makes a storming run down the right flank before darting into the box and looking to cut the ball back to the penalty spot. Yoshida comes across and cuts out the pass, though, and as Katsouranis chases the loose ball he commits a foul and picks up a yellow card.
25` The delivery is sent into the area but it fails to find a blue shirt and, despite Uchida's efforts, rolls out on the far side for a throw in to Greece. Not the best of deliveries from Honda there.
23` That is silly from Fetfatzidis! With Honda going nowhere the Greek wide man still put in a challenge on the far side. Now Japan have a great chance to put the ball in the box.
21` OSAKO AGAIN!! JUST WIDE! That is a much better effort from the Japan striker as he attempts to curl a shot into the far corner from 20 yards out, only to see it sail agonisingly wide of Karnezis' left-hand post. The Samurai Blue are beginning to fashion openings now.
19` OSAKO!! WEAK EFFORT! A nice move from Japan with Uchida's diagonal pass finding Okubo on the edge of the box. He then teed the ball up for Osako who attempted to bend a first-time shot at goal, however, his effort bounced comfortably into the arms of Karnezis.
17` STAT: Greece have only won one of their previous seven fixtures in the World Cup. A solitary 2-1 win over Nigeria in 2010 was also the only game in which they scored, and they have lost all the other six meetings.
15` There has been plenty of possession on the edge of the final third for Japan in the opening quarter of an hour, but as of yet they have provided very little penetration. Many of their passes simply go from side to side before eventually being picked off by the Ethniki.
13` The resultant free kick is bent towards the back post by Holebas but Sokratis commits a foul in his attempts to try and connect with a header.
12` Yellow Card Makoto Hasebe
12` Hasebe picks up a yellow card for holding back Maniatis after the Greek dispossessed him 30 yards from Kawashima's net. Very early to pick up a booking for the Japan captain, who will be walking a tightrope for the rest of the game.
11` KONE! Greece break quickly and the midfielder carries the ball from inside his own half all the way up the other end. Options are limited, so from 25 yards he decides to shoot - sending a low, skidding effort towards Kawashima. The keeper spills the shot initially, but with no one following up he can collect at the second attempt.
9` Greece are sitting very deep at the moment. When Japan have the ball in their half they seem happy to put everyone, bar Mitroglou, behind the play and hold the line fairly close to their own 18-yard box. Sitting so far back may eventually enable Honda to pop up in pockets of space around the area.
7` An important interception from Manolas again! The big Greek centre-back reads Honda's pass brilliantly and manages to step in and stop Osako from going through one-on-one with Karnezis. Moments later, though, the striker gives him the slip and runs in behind but is unable to control a long ball over the top from deep.
5` Mitroglou is picked out in the area for the first time this evening and he controls the ball well. His shot at Kawashima, however, is not quite as impressive and the goalkeeper makes a comfortable save.
4` Honda gets on the ball for the first time tonight but is quickly closed by Katsouranis, who fouls the AC Milan man with a rough challenge. He's probably seeking to put it in his mind that he won't get that much time on the ball tonight. A free kick is awarded, though.
2 `A chance for Yamaguchi as Okubo forces his way into the box down the right, before Holebas' challenge sends the ball darting across the box. The Japanese midfielder picks it up 20 yards out but his driven effort is blocked by Manolas.
Greece have failed to keep a clean sheet in any of their seven previous World Cup encounters. They may well need to summon the solidity of the Ethniki side that famously won Euro 2004 tonight if they are to have any chance of progressing from Group C.
Japan and Greece have only met on one previous occasion, with the Blue Samurai coming out on top with a 1-0 win in the 2005 Confederations Cup. Yasuhito Endo is the only current member of the Japan squad to have taken part in that game, but he takes his place on the bench tonight.
Fernando Santos also make two changes to the side that suggered a heavy 3-0 defeat to Colombia. Giannis Fetfatzidis replaces Dimitris Salpingidis on the right flank and Kostas Mitroglou is selected ahead of Theofanis Gekas as the central striker.
Greece (4-3-3): Karnezis; Torosidis, Manolas, Sokratis, Holebas; Maniatis, Katsouranis, Kone; Fetfatzidis, Mitroglou, Samaras.
The Samurai Blue threw away the lead and suffered a 2-1 defeat to Ivory Coast in their last game, and so Alberto Zaccheroni drafts Yasuyuki Konno into the centre of defence in the place of Masato Morishige. Manchester United's Shinji Kagawa also makes way from the starting line-up as Yoshito Okubo is awarded a starting berth.
Japan (4-2-3-1): Kawashima; Uchida, Yoshida, Konno, Nagatomo; Yamaguchi, Hasebe; Okazaki, Honda, Okubo; Osako.
Commentary & Report: Goal dot com