Japan’s stats were remarkable and revealing following their 0-0 draw with Greece in their second Group C encounter at the 2014 FIFA World Cup™: 68 per cent possession, 570 passes completed, 62 dangerous attacks but just 16 shots.
A win still eludes them on Brazilian soil, while the Samurai Blue also failed to pick up any victories at last year’s FIFA Confederations Cup, when they exited at the group phase. More worryingly still, on Thursday at Natal’s Estadio das Dunas, the Japanese simply could not find the net, however hard they tried. “Greece were very strong at the back,” Maya Yoshida told FIFA.com. “When they went a man down they shut up shop even more, and that made it much more difficult to get our game going.”
It is certainly the case that Konstantinos Katsouranis’s dismissal in the 38th minute did not significantly ease the load on Alberto Zaccheroni’s charges, who continued to zip the ball around impressively but without being able to break down the Hellenics’ defensive wall. In fact, the Japanese also struggled to cope with their opponents’ speedy and direct counter-attacks, with the 2004 European champions managing to fire off nine shots – over half Japan’s tally – but with just 32 per cent of possession.
In a bid to break the deadlock, Southampton centre-back Yoshida abandoned his defensive post on a number of occasions to press forward – though he was frustrated in his attempts to use his aerial prowess to get the nod on Fernando Santos’s troops. “Even so, we can’t go changing our style in our next game,” said Yoshida determinedly. “We need to keep playing the same way, but show much more belief in our play and a little extra in attacking areas.”
Echoing his analysis of the stalemate on a humid night in Natal was his captain Makoto Hasebe. “Even when they had ten men it was difficult, because they closed ranks very well,” he explained. “We weren’t able to comfortably get our usual style going and they were very good at nullifying our attacks.”
“It’s disappointing that we weren’t able to get the ball in the net,” said Keisuke Honda directly after the match. “The result is everything and it doesn’t matter how much effort we put in in attack, it’s very disappointing not to have picked up three points. We fell into their trap, but we fought right to the end and never stopped trying.” And that is what the east Asians will need to do once more come 24 June, when they play their final card in their bid for a Round of 16 place against already qualified Colombia.