NATAL: Japan coach Alberto Zaccheroni bemoaned his side’s failure to punish 10-man Greece after a 0-0 draw which leaves the Asian giants struggling to reach the World Cup knockout rounds.
Japan looked to have been given a crucial advantage when Greek captain Konstantinos Katsouranis was dismissed on 38 minutes for a second bookable offence.
But although Japan dominated possession thereafter, they were unable to find a way through a stubborn Greek rearguard action and now have it all to do if they are to emerge from Group C.
Japan’s draw means Colombia are guaranteed a top two finish in the group, but Zaccheroni’s men will now have to beat the in-form South Americans to have any chance of joining them in the last 16.
“We’re not happy at this stage of the tournament,” Zaccheroni said. “We pushed hard to win the game. We do have one match to play, but right now I’m not happy at all.
“We had a lot of possession, had a lot of chances and we didn’t capitalise on them.
“I don’t know what Colombia will decide and how they line up for us. But we have to play differently from the first game and also from our game tonight.
“We should have won the game.”
Japan winger Shinji Kagawa’s terrible year continued as after a miserable season with Manchester United Japan coach Zaccheroni dropped him to the bench after a poor showing against Ivory Coast.
Japan controlled affairs in the first-half thanks to the surging runs of left-back Yuto Nagatomo and the tight, short passing of a potent midfield being marshalled superbly by Keisuke Honda.
Greece’s chances of taking something from the game lessened dramatically during a disastrous five minutes in the first-half.
First leading striker Kostas Mitroglou’s injury nightmare, which saw him barely play a game for Fulham after a multi-million pound move in January, continued as he hobbled off in the 35th minute.
Three minutes later he was followed by his Katsouranis, though for a less commendable reason as he was sent for an early shower after being booked for a second time in the game.
Greece coach Fernando Santos reacted to Katsouranis’s red card by turning to the experience of substitute Georgios Karagounis, Greece’s most capped player of all time, and sacrificing Genoa midfielder Ioannis Fetfatzidis.
Greece, though, have shown that they are never more dangerous than when their backs are against the wall and soon after they produced their best chance of the half, Vasilios Torosidis stinging the palms of Eiji Kawashima with a fierce drive from the right of the area.
Zaccheroni eventually sent on Kagawa on 57 minutes as Greece appeared to be comfortably holding their opponents.
Greece, however, again came closest to breaking the deadlock as Kawashima did brilliantly to get down and turn away for a corner a header from Theofanis Gekas.
Japan found their rhythm again and carved out a fine opportunity when Kagawa sighted Atsuto Uchida ghosting in deep on the right, but after the defender’s delivery across goal Yoshito Okubo could only splice wide from a tight angle.
A Nagatomo delivery then caused confusion in the Greek box, but Uchida spurned another chance with a sliding effort that was just off target.
A speculative 30-metre drive from Okubo forced Orestis Karnezis to parry on 77 minutes and Japan’s final chance fell to Yasuhito Endo in the 90th minute when a free kick was awarded on the edge of the area, but the midfielder’s curling effort was parried to safety by Karnezis at his far post.