Three Points: Japan draw with Greece
Some quick thoughts after Japan and Greece battled to a 0-0 draw in Group C play at the World Cup.
Japan have only themselves to blame
Playing Greece, even (or perhaps especially) when faced with the 10-man version, can be an exercise in frustration. But it becomes torturous only if you don't take the few chances that are offered. Anyone who has watched Japan over the years knows that the Asian champions are not always the most clinical of teams.
And so it proved again. Some of the approach play can be sublime, though there hasn't been too much evidence of that so far in Brazil. But one of the major issues for the team has long been the absence of a prolific goal scorer. Japan didn't create too many chances, but the one midway through the second half that fell to Yoshito Okubo was the best.
The Kawasaki Frontale striker, playing deeper in Natal than he does for his club, was something of a surprise call-up by coach Alberto Zaccheroni. But such has been his form at home that most agreed with the decision. His touch deserted him at the crucial moment. Unmarked at the far post when Atsuto Uchida rolled a pass along the 6-yard box, the 32-year-old's shot was high and wide.
It wasn't just the fact that Japan missed chances, but that in the two games they just didn't create enough even when they were on top. The dynamic approach play that Asian fans have enjoyed, when not being on the receiving end that is, has been largely absent from this tournament and the final ball was too often lacking.
Japan, passive in the loss against Ivory Coast, started much more aggressively. But for all the pressing and pushing the opposition back, the breakthrough never came. Only late in the game did the Samurai Blue get behind the Greek back line with full-backs Uchida and Yuto Nagatomo busy down the flanks. But the balls into the danger zone were either wasted or dealt with.
For such a talented team playing against 10 men for so long, it was a major letdown. Ultimately, the headlines will not be about Shinji Kagawa starting on the bench, but about how Japan were just not clever enough to win this game.
Greece happier, but ...
Greece may have won the 2004 European Championships, but their record in the World Cup is nothing to write home about (a little like this game). They've never reached the second round and there has not been, yet, any suggestion that Brazil 2014 will be any different.
The most exciting moment of the game for Greece was the attempt by Georgios Samaras to do what Pele couldn't and score from the halfway line. The Celtic striker attempted to chip Japanese goalkeeper Eiji Kawashima straight from the second-half kickoff as a lackadaisical Japan were still getting ready. Apart from that, there wasn't much.
Konstantinos Mitroglou was the man whose goals earned Greece a place in the tournament and was supposed to be the man who could shoot the country into the second round. Yet the striker has been as anonymous in Brazil as he has been for Fulham since joining the London club in January. Only when he left the pitch injured after 35 minutes were we alerted to his presence.
If that was worrying, worse was on its way. Six minutes later, captain Kostas Katsouranis was sent off. The PAOK man can have few complaints over the referee's decision, as he followed an early caution with a rash challenge on Makoto Hasebe. It was not the act of a mature leader.
In truth, it didn't change that much. Prior to the red card, Japan were already enjoying 70 percent possession and the 2004 Euro champs were up against it. It just made a tough job that much tougher.
To Greece's credit, they defended excellently and actually looked dangerous on the occasions they attacked. The result is unlikely, though, to see them prolong their stay in South America.
Round of 16 hopes slim
Going into the game, Japan knew that only by defeating Greece would they control their own destiny. Now they are reliant on results elsewhere.
There is hope, though not much. Japan have never beaten a South American team at the World Cup. But with the Colombians certain of progressing following their two wins, a first victory for Japan would not be a huge shock. The problem for Zaccheroni's men is, of course, what happens elsewhere. Ivory Coast will fancy their chances of getting the win they need against Greece to progress to the last 16, and while the Europeans may be able to frustrate the Africans, even a draw in that game leaves Japan needing to win by two goals.
Greece will be heartened by their defensive display, but a first appearance in the round of 16 is looking highly unlikely. Defeating Ivory Coast would be a surprise, but may not even be enough if Japan down Colombia. Their inferior goal difference doesn't make things any easier.
It's not impossible though. Greece collected a single point from their opening two games in Euro 2012 and were roundly slated for their performances. Then they bounced back to defeat Russia and make it to the last eight.