Japan and Greece did their World Cup fortunes no favors on Thursday evening at the Estadio das Dunas, playing to a turgid 0-0 draw that left both sides with just one point through two games in Group C.
The Greeks played over half the game with 10 men after Kostas Katsouranis was shown his second yellow card in the 38th minute. Despite the man advantage, Japan struggled to get clear looks in front of goal despite relying heavily on the creative talents of their midfield.
The result was enough to guarantee advancement to the Round of 16 for Colombia, who defeated the Ivory Coast 2-1 earlier on Thursday to move up to six points. Japan will face Colombia and Greece will face the Ivory Coast in simultaneous group finales on June 24, with both sides needing a win to give themselves a chance of advancing.
HANDS TIED: Greek coach Fernando Santos has had better days at the office. His hand was forced repeatedly in the first half, and as a result, the team did not offer a whole lot going forward in the second half. Kostas Mitroglou, the team's qualifying hero, went down with what looked to be a hip injury sustained in an aerial collision and had to be substituted in the 35th minute for Theofanis Gekas. After Katsouranis' red card, Santos had to make another change, this time tactical, as Giorgos Karagounis replaced Ioannis Fetfatzidis, severely limiting what he could do to change the game in the second half.
SET PIECE STRUGGLES: Set piece goals have been key through the opening rounds of the World Cup, but there was a real lack of proficiency on display today. The Greeks, who have built their reputation on such plays, failed to seriously test the Japanese defense despite a considerable height advantage, save for a 60th minute effort by Gekas off a corner kick that was turned around.
Japan's clever passing game and good movement meant they drew their fair share of fouls around the Greek area, especially as the opposition started to tire in the 2nd half, but neither Keisuke Honda nor halftime substitute Yasuhito Endo could conjure up the necessary magic. It will be a bitter disappointment for the Samurai Blue, compounded by the fact that they were virtually unable to generate any clear looks at goal from open play.
FAN FEST: The game may have been lacking in color, but the crowd at the Estadio das Dunas certainly wasn't. Japan's exuberant fans were in full voice and dressed for the occasion, and their Greek counterparts didn't do so badly themselves. Some shots from the crowd:
Man of the Match: Sokratis Papastathopoulos, defender, Greece: The towering center back with the tounge-twisting name had a fine game patrolling the backline and neutralizing Japan's forwards to great effect, guaranteeing a commendable milestone for his country:
Greece posts its first #WorldCup shutout and gets a point for the second time in eight WC games.— Paul Carr (@PCarrESPN) June 19, 2014