Even with a one-man advantage for most of the match, Japan narrowly escaped Greece in scoreless result on Thursday at Estadio Das Dunas in Natal, Brazil, keeping both teams knockout-stage dreams alive.
The Samurai Blue are still in line to make the Round of 16 for the second straight World Cup, and third in the last four tournaments. Japan will now need a victory against Colombia in their final Group C match next week and Ivory Coast to lose to Greece to advance.
Ethniki extended a lifeline to their World Cup chances, albeit a slim one, and look to make the Round of 16 for the first time in three appearances. After losing to Colombia 3-0 in the opening game, Greece will need to defeat Ivory Coast.
The draw also assures Colombia of an appearance in the knockout stage.
A controversial call put Ethniki down a man in the 37th minute, and changed the landscape of the match. Greek captain Kostas Katsouranis was sent off by a second yellow card after a mistimed sliding tackle on Japan’s Makoto Hasebe.
The 34-year-old PAOK midfielder may have played his last World Cup game, despite making an obvious play for the ball with no clear intent on injuring or retribution against Hasebe after he was booked in the 12th minute for a foul against Greek midfielder Giannis Maniatis.
Still, Greece’s back line and overall defensive dominance proved the difference even with only 10 men.
Japan held a 76-24 possession advantage at the half, but could only muster two shots on goal and one corner kick, even with a man down in the last seven minutes. Greece also had two shots on goal and two corners.
After lackluster first, the second half was far more promising for Japan. Yoshito Okubo missed a wide open net from a difficult angle with a left-footed strike after Atsuto Uchida squeezed a low cross through the penalty area in the 68th minute.
Japan keeper Eiji Kawashima and Greece’s Orestis Karnezis each totaled four saves in their clean sheet efforts, and it was the first in the World Cup for the latter.