An out of sorts Japan continued to struggle through their World Cup campaign, being held to a 0-0 stalemate against a 10 man Greece. The Greeks who had their influential centre midfield anchor Katsouranis sent off in the first half for two bookable offences, defended deep throughout, limiting the Japanese to few clear cut opportunities. But for all Japan’s dominance in possession Albert Zaccheroni’s side couldn’t force the issue and now will need to rely on results elsewhere if they are to progress out of their group.
Zaccheroni had already gambled quite a bit with the Japanese line-up, bringing in Konno and Okubo for Morishige and Kagawa. Kagawa in particular had come in for heavy criticism for his less than influential performance against Ivory Coast at the weekend, while Morishige could have counted himself unlucky after a pretty solid performance against the West African side. Equally surprising, Yuya Osako kept his place in attack, while skipper Makoto Hasebe was passed fit to sit alongside Yamaguchi in centre midfield.
The match itself saw Japan return to their usual possession based tactics that have reaped rewards for them over the past two years. Their complete domination of possession (68% over the 90 minutes) however didn’t convert into substantial goal attempts. They lacked their usual cutting play and failed to breakthrough a stubborn Greek side who sat deep and attempted to play on the counter. Keisuke Honda, who had faltered more than he excelled against Ivory Coast continued his absent recent form, rarely looking a threat from distance and failing to link up with Osako and Okubo in the Japanese attack.
The attacking blend was also missing, Osako in fairness upped his game from the Ivorian encounter but only threatened from distance, while Okubo looked livelier but lacked a cutting edge in the final third, missing Japan’s clearest opportunity from a tight angle. Shinji Okazaki who had one of his most impressive seasons to date with Mainz in the Bundesliga continued to struggle at the tournament, often bullied off the ball before he could make a real contribution to Japan’s attacking play.
Defensively, Japan again looked susceptible, with Greece forcing a couple of decent saves from Kawashima off set plays. Aerial duels that had been highlighted in their first match, remain Japan’s Achilles heel. Yoshida looks strong in the air, but Konno alongside him did little to justify his position ahead of Morishige. The full backs played more as a wingers, Uchida in particular making strides into the Greece penalty area and creating a number of chances, one in particular he fired wide after some Greek fumbling.
A dire display on most fronts for a side with the majority share of possession, but in truth this was mainly taken up between the centre halves and the holding midfielders who looked out of ideas against a tightly packed defence. Zaccheroni’s lack of flexibility that saw him introduce like for like alternatives from the bench will start to come under further scrutiny. Pressure to at least put in an admirable performance against the Colombians next week is a must, a match Japan need to win and hope Ivory Coast slip up against the Greeks.
Asia have yet to taste victory in this World Cup, with two of their three draws ending 0-0. While Australia and Iran have gone out and achieved their goals, at least on a performance basis, the East Asian sides are yet to stand up and be counted. Where to improve is a hard question that needs to be answered by Zaccheroni. The falling stars of Kagawa and Honda can take their share of the blame, but a lack of a Plan B in each of their last two matches has severely hampered Japan’s chances of progressing out of this group.
Player ratings (/5)
Eiji Kawashima – 4/5 – One of the only decent performers on the night. Three brilliant saves that went some way to make up for the Ivorian error.
Atsuto Uchida – 4/5 – Eventual right winger who kept Japan going and created a number of chances.
Maya Yoshida – 3/5 – Tested little, looked strong.
Yasuyuki Konno – 2/5 – Equally untested defensively, looked weak in possession.
Yuto Nagatomo – 3/5 – Sent in a number of crosses but was often frustrated.
Makoto Hasebe – 3/5 – Solid match, kept possession well but too many sideways passes saw him withdrawn at halftime.
Hotaru Yamaguchi – 3/5 – Mostly ineffective but rotated the ball soundly. Dropped deeper when Endo was introduced.
Yoshito Okubo – 3/5 – On the end of the few chances Japan created. Looked a threat at times coming in off the right.
Keisuke Honda – 2/5 – Very poor performance from their star man. Uninterested again in Japanese blue.
Shinji Okazaki – 2/5 – Ran all day but rarely collected the ball facing the goal.
Yuya Osako – 3/5 – Better performance from the young striker who threatened from distance early on.
Yasuhito Endo – 3/5 – Started well but frustrated by deep lying Greeks. Sent in a few dangerous free kicks.
Shinji Kagawa – 3/5 – Look bright initially but failed to spark Japan into life.