Japan failed to overcome 10-man Greece on Thursday evening in Natal, coasting to a 0-0 draw, and with it, taking their destiny out of their own hands.
The Samurai Blue dominated possession following Kostas Katsouranis' first-half sending off but after 18 shots, failed to truly trouble goalkeeper Orestis Karnezis.
Formations and XIs
Japan continued in their usual 4-2-3-1 formation but made a few personnel changes to freshen things up. Yasuyuki Konno entered the back line, and Yoshito Okubo played in midfield.
Greece started with Kostas Mitroglou up front and Ioannis Fetfatzidis on the right in place of Dimitris Salpingidis and Fanis Gekas.
Pass, pass, pass
Japan enjoy monopolising the ball, whereas Greece are borderline allergic to it. That contrast alone ensured a very steady pattern to the game, with the one team asking all the questions and the other hanging in.
Alberto Zaccheroni went for ball retention over star quality and in doing so, dropped Shinji Kagawa, who managed a measly 80 percent pass-completion percentage against the Ivory Coast, per WhoScored.com.
In that sense, they certainly improved; by the 35th minute the Samurai Blue had accrued 71 percent possession, and by half-time they were on 76.
Goals, though, continued to be an issue, as all Japan had to show for a half's work were two Yuya Osako long shots and a number of bad choices preventing clear-cut chances.
Punt, punt, punt
In stark contrast, Greece wanted very little to do with possession and preferred to sit deep and win it back.
By the 16th minute, they'd totaled 26 completed passes to Japan's 132, and all of their attacks were founded on winning the ball back high up and feeding the strikers and wingers in the channels.
Georgios Samaras and Fetfatzidis played narrowly off the ball and tracked the full-backs studiously, but they flew out to the wide areas once it was won, offering an option.
Unfortunately, little headway was made due to Mitroglou's laziness leading the line. His runs were uninspired, offer nothing to the midfield and he looked only half-fit.
Adjustments in vein
Zaccheroni replaced Makoto Hasebe for Yasuhito Endo at half-time, hoping the midfielder may be a little more forceful and penetrative with his passing.
Kagawa came on at left-wing and began combining with Yuto Nagatomo superbly, but everything Japan threw at the Greek defence was rebuffed.
Manolas and Sokratis Papastathopoulos were spectacular, and Giorgos Karagounis did a brilliant job shielding after being substituted on.
If there's one team in the World Cup whose game plan doesn't change following a red card it's Greece, and they elected to sit deep, soak up pressure and counter-attack using two or three players.
Japan, though, were incredibly disappointing. Again.
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