NATAL, Brazil (AP) — With Japan's World Cup chances hanging by a thread, coach Alberto Zaccheroni took a big gamble by dropping Shinji Kagawa — one of the team's two genuine international stars — from the starting lineup for a critical match against Greece.
For much of the match it looked as if the gambit would work, as Japan threatened Greece's goal time and again. But in the end Japan was unable to convert any of the multitude of chances it created with Greece a man down — and the 0-0 result means it needs a miracle to advance to the knockout stages.
Manchester United star Kagawa was a ghostly presence in Japan's opening match against Ivory Coast, spraying passes and rarely making impact. Still the decision to leave out the inventive attacker in a match where Japan needed to regain its offensive flair was a surprise. Yet with AC Milan's Keisuke Honda, Japan's other star, the sole maestro of the Blue Samurai attack, the Asians regained the fluid passing game that had gone missing in their opener — and forced Greece to repel wave after wave of dangerous attack.
The relentless pressure forced the Greeks to play a thuggish game, and Konstantinos Katsouranis was sent off in the 38th minute after picking up a second yellow card. After that, Japan pressed forward until the final whistle — dominating possession — but could not unlock the famously stingy Greek defense.
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