Japan and ten-man Greece have each earned their first point at Brazil 2014 in a 0-0 draw at Natal's Estadio das Dunas. The stalemate does little for either team, leaving them joint-bottom of Group C, a section led by Colombia on six points, with Côte d'Ivoire following on three.
With so much at stake, it was perhaps understandable that the early stages were tense and forgettable, with little quality on show from either side. The best of the moves that were created tended to come from Japan, with Yuya Osaka curling in a left-foot shot that forced Orestis Karnezis into an early save and then going for goal with his other foot, missing the far post by a matter of inches.
With 29 minutes played, a free-kick 25 yards goal offered Keisuke Honda to try his luck, but though the AC Milan star's left-foot shot cleared the wall, Karnezis was able to parry away and then scramble clear as Japan's strikers looked to pounce. Greece had struggled to get going at this stage, and a tough task became all the more difficult nine minutes later when captain Konstantinos Katsouranis earned a second yellow card for a late, lunging tackle on fellow skipper Makoto Hasebe.
Remarkably, though, the dismissal seemed to spark something in the Europeans, who performed better with ten men than they had with 11. The first sign that they were set to rally in the face of adversity came just a few minutes after Katsouranis's departure, when Vasileios Torosidis smashed a right-foot shot in from the edge of the box that forced a fantastic save from Eiji Kawashima.
The Greeks were playing with a new-found freedom, and their ambition was underlined at the start of the second half when Georgios Samaras attempted an audacious shot from the kick-off, sending the ball sailing over Kawashima but wide of the right-hand post. Fernando Santos's side continued to threaten, though, and on the hour-mark substitute Theofanis Gekas rose highest at a corner only to see his header pushed behind by the Japan keeper.
The Samurai Blue had yet to wake up in the second half, but they finally came to life after 68 minutes when Atsuto Uchida set up Yoshito Okubo for a seemingly certain goal, only for Japan's No13 to lean back and fire wildly over. Then Uchida himself snatched on hesitancy in the Greek defence only to see his rushed effort finish wide of the right-hand post.
But while Japan finished the stronger of the two teams, they could not find a way through and must now beat the table-topping Colombians if they are to have any chance of reaching the Round of 16.