Greece gets moral victory in World Cup group play by tying Japan, 0-0

Greece gets moral victory in World Cup group play by tying Japan, 0-0
Japan forward Yoshito Okubo, left, reacts after missing a chance at scoring on goalkeeper Orestis Karnezis and Greece in a World Cup Group C game Thursday night at the Estadio Arena das Dunas in Natal, Brazil. (Kamil Krzaczynski / EPA)

Japan lost to Greece, 0-0.

You read that right. Japan, with a better attacking team from the start and a one-man advantage for almost an hour, was blanked.

Both sides emerged from the draw at 0-1-1 in the World Cup and equally alive in Group C. But the Greeks will be raising glasses of ouzo and the Japanese crying in their miso soup after a moral victory for the former and a disaster for the latter.

Japan, dictating play, had built up a 3-to-1 edge on ball control even before midfielder Konstantinos Katsouranis, the Greek captain, was shown his second yellow card after a blatant slide tackle in the 38th minute. So desperate was Greece to let loose an unchallenged shot that the second half began with a foot-tap pass and an attempt from midfield by Giorgos Samaras in hopes of catching goalkeeper Eiji Kawashima napping. It would not have mattered; the ball went well wide.

Greece, which rarely menaced offensively, began to wear down midway through the second period, and the field seemed tilted toward the Japanese goal as they blasted away. Eighteen shots, only four on goal, failed to find their destination.

Greece entered the match on shaky ground. Midfielder Giannis Maniatis, who apparently treats practices more seriously than Allen Iverson did, grew enraged over wayward crosses from a teammate earlier in the week. A post-workout argument with coach Fernando Santos did not satisfy Maniatis, so he reportedly booked a flight home before cooling off.

There were no such accounts of sniping by the Japanese, but nerves might be frayed in the wake of a devastating tie that seemed like a defeat.