By DAN KARELL
It wasn’t pretty, but Greece are probably happy with the final score considering the circumstances.
The trademark resolute Greek defense held up Japan’s potent offense despite playing for more than 60 minutes down to ten men, earning a point in a scoreless draw on Thursday evening at the Estadio Das Dunas in Natal. Greek captain Konstantinos Katsouranis was shown two yellow cards in the first half, earning Greece’s first ever red card in their World Cup history.
While both teams wanted a win, the draw keeps Japan and Greece’s hopes alive to make it to the knockout stages. The result also ensured Colombia a place in the next round after just two matches.
Japan came in boasting a more talented attacking midfield trio and dominated possession from the start, though Panagiotis Kone forced a low save from Eiji Kawashima. However, the game’s lasting moment came in the 38th minute when Katsouranis lunged in to stop Japan on a counter attack.
Katsouranis’ tackle was late, taking out Makoto Hasebe and forcing the referee to go to his pocket and show the veteran Greek midfielder a red card.
In the second half, it was all Japan, and they arguably had the chance of the game in the 68th minute. Manchester United midfielder Shinji Kagawa lofted a terrific ball into the box right to the foot of right back Atsuto Uchida. Uchida took the pass first time and sent a perfect low cross across the face of goal.
It all set up perfectly for Yoshito Ōkubo at the far post, but he somehow missed a wide open net and put his shot into the stands.
Three minutes later, Uchida had a chance of his own with a sliding shot but the strike went wide. Even veteran midfielder Yasuhito Endō’s 90th minute free kick attempt was saved by Greece goalkeeper Orestis Karnezis, proving that it just wasn’t Japan’s night.
Heading into the final round of group stage matches, Japan needs a win over undefeated Colombia and a loss or draw (and a better goal differential) than the Ivory Coast, while Greece needs to beat the Ivory Coast and hope that Japan don’t beat Colombia.