SPORTS

Goalless draw with Japan keeps spirited Greece alive in World Cup

By George Georgakopoulos

Greece’s first ever clean sheet in its World Cup history has kept it in the running for the second round, as the 0-0 draw with Japan on Thursday, with a man down for most of the game in the rainy and windy conditions at Natal, has given it its first point in the tournament.

The Blue-and-whites now need victory by any score against the Ivory Coast on Tuesday, while hoping that Colombia will not lose to Japan at the same time.

The Greek defense showed much more composure than in the game with Colombia, not allowing the Japanese to enter the Greek box and forcing them to threaten keeper Orestis Karnezis only through long-range shots, mainly by Yuya Osako. However in attack the Greeks opted in most cases for personal and not team efforts.

Given the rapid players that Japan has, the Greek strategy was to slow the game down, at a rate than was even slower than the match Greece played with Colombia. Contributing to the slow pace of the game was the whistle-happy referee from El Salvador.

Japan definitely lagged expectations and will feel disappointed not to have scored against its 10-man opponent.

After a productive first 10 minutes, including a decent Panayiotis Kone shot on goal that was fisted away, the Greeks sat back to allow the Japanese to enjoy more possession and space.

The problems for Greece started in the 34th minute, as injured Mitroglou had to come off, with Fanis Gekas coming on. Then four minutes later Katsouranis collected his second booking within 15 minutes, leaving Greece with 10 men. That also brought about the second substitution for Greece manager Fernando Santos, with Giorgos Karagounis replacing Yiannis Fetfatzidis.

The red card served as a wake-up call for the Blue-and-whites, as they raised their game and a powerful shot by Vassilis Torosidis forced Eiji Kawashima to an acrobatic save, while Gekas was wrongly stopped for an offside as he was sent clear to score just before half-time.

Greece’s first threat in the second half came 14 minutes after the restart with a Gekas header after a corner kick, that Kawashima palmed away.

There were moments when the Japanese defense got very nervous, although had Yosito Okubo scored from close range in the 68th, things would have been very different. Giorgos Samaras knew he should have done better when he rose unchallenged in the box to head the ball wide after 80 minutes.

Dimitris Salpingidis came on in the last 10 minutes for Kone, being Santos’s last-ditch effort to steal the game.

The Greek defense held firm, with Karnezis meeting all the challenges that the Japanese gave him.

The 0-0 result was probably the best Greece could have hoped for, given the conditions of the game, in what was only the first draw Greece has grabbed in the World Cup finals.

To their credit, the few hundreds of Greek fans at the stands often managed to outshout the thousands of Japanese to give a much-needed boost to the national team.

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