By Karolos Grohmann
June 19 (Reuters) - Rustic defending in the land of the beautiful game may seem like an insult for Brazilian fans but it served 10-man Greece well when they earned a point in a goalless World Cup Group C draw with Japan in Natal on Thursday.
The Greeks, who had captain Kostas Katsouranis sent off for a second booking late in the first half, quickly reverted to their tried and tested method of defending at all costs, a strategy that brought them a surprise triumph at Euro 2004.
With both teams desperate for a win to stay in contention for a top-two finish in the group, the Greeks will undoubtedly be the happier side after having to drop deep and soak up almost an hour of relentless Japanese attacks.
Japan, who lost their Group C opener to Ivory Coast, laid siege but even when coach Alberto Zaccheroni brought on attacking midfielder Shinji Kagawa they were unable to score.
Initially it was a free-flowing game with both teams out to score but Katsouranis's red card and an injury to striker Kostas Mitroglou forced Greece coach Fernando Santos to change his plans.
Off came skilful attacking forward Yannis Fetfatzidis and on came 37-year-old veteran Giorgos Karagounis, the sole Euro 2004 survivor along with Katsouranis left in the squad, to control possession and add experience during a desperate second half.
Karagounis provided control against the charging Japanese, with winger Giorgos Samaras the Greeks' target whenever they tried to go forward or shave a few seconds off the clock.
Japan have only themselves to blame for not converting at least one chance with their finishing left a lot to be desired. They completed almost four times as many passes as the Greeks but they always failed at the final hurdle.
Greece central defenders Sokratis Papastathopoulos and Kostas Manolas had near flawless games with the Japanese opting to try and cut in from the wings or break the deadlock from set piece late in the game.
To add insult to injury Greece coach Fernando Santos went all out toward the end, bringing on winger Dimitris Salpingidis in place of Panagiotis Kone but it would have been an injustice if Greece had scored.
The result may be a relief for the Greeks but both teams must now win their final games to have any chance of qualifying.
There were at least some happy fans with Colombia sealing their round of 16 spot as a result of the draw after beating Ivory Coast 2-1 earlier on Thursday. (Editing by Ed Osmond)
- Sports & Recreation
- Kostas Katsouranis
- Giorgos Karagounis
- Ivory Coast