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Scoreless draw keeps Japan and Greece alive

Updated: 2014-06-20 11:13 (Agencies)

Scoreless draw keeps Japan and Greece alive

Greece's Kostas Manolas (in white) kicks the ball next to Japan's Shinji Okazaki during their 2014 World Cup Group C soccer match at the Dunas arena in Natal, June 19, 2014. [Photo/Agencies]

NATAL, Brazil - Greece promised goals that didn't come. Japan pressed for a victory that eluded them yet again.

The ultimate result of what has turned out to be a rarity at this World Cup - a 0-0 draw - is that Colombia is guaranteed to move on to the knockout rounds and Greece and Japan are still clinging to life in Group C.

Reduced to 10 men after captain Costas Katsouranis was sent off in the 38th minute with his second booking, Greece held on for a critical result in the group by returning to the rock-solid defense that Colombia had blistered for three goals in an opening loss.

"My players were brilliant," said Greece coach Fernando Santos. "They worked hard after the red card. Without the red card we probably would have won the game."

Both teams inserted new strikers in search of goals and a first victory, but ultimately the main objective was survival and both achieved that with one match left in group play. Japan would have been eliminated with a loss.

Once Katsouranis was sent off after a rough challenge on Makoto Hasebe, Greece withdrew into a defensive setup and held firm. Even short-handed, Greece was better organized against Japan and avoided any critical mistakes.

Japan defender Atsuto Uchida said he could sense Greece building a wall around the goal as soon as Katsouranis was sent off.

"I had a bad feeling about it. It happens a lot in soccer, when a team goes down to 10, they know exactly what they need to do. And that also happens to be exactly Greece's way to fighting - to fight by defending," Uchida said.

Japan pressed forward after halftime and had several chances to score.

The best came in the 68th minute when Shinji Kagawa played a long pass over the top to Uchida, who sent it back across the middle to Yoshito Okubo, who blasted the volley over the net.

Greece goalkeeper Orestis Karnezis also was forced to make a diving save in injury time to preserve the draw and the point for Greece.

Greece came in determined to turn around its dismal scoring history in the World Cup - 18 goals conceded against just two scored - inserting Kostas Mitroglou up front. Greek players had even promisesd goals against Japan.

But Mitroglou's best effort was an early volley that spun off his foot and he didn't even make it to halftime.

After taking an elbow in the side in the 30th minute, Mitroglou collapsed to the ground. He got up and walked off under his own power but soon determined he couldn't continue and was taken off for Theofanis Gekas in the 35th minute.

Things got worse for Greece just moments later when Katsouranis was sent off. Greece retreated into its half of the field for most of the second half. Japan had 68 percent of ball possession.

Katsouranis will be suspended for Greece's final group match against Cote d'Ivoire.

"It was a terrible start, losing a man," said Greece defender Sokratis Papastathopoulos. "But we have a point and we have hope ... if things go well, let us get four points with a win in the next game - and if God decides that we are eliminated because of the other result, so be it."

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