Japan vs. Greece: 6 Things We Learned
Japan vs. Greece will not be remembered in the annals of the World Cup as a classic. There was little to hold the interest of the neutral, unless the neutral in question was an admirer of rugged defending and tactical discipline.
However, Thursday's match was not without incident. Here are six things we learned from watching.
Katsouranis' Last Moment in a Greek Shirt May Have Been a Moment of Madness
In the 38th minute of his 113th international appearance, Konstantinos Katsouranis lunged in with a late tackle.
Since he was already on a booking, his action was beyond reckless. He was the team's captain and the most experienced player on the pitch, and it was clear from the outset that he had a vital tactical role to play.
He had started the game as the deepest-lying of Greece's midfielders, shielding the defence and preventing Japan's attacking unit from pulling centre-backs Konstantinos Manolas and Sokratis Papastathopoulos out of position.
Given his age, it is entirely possible that this could be the last game of what has been a remarkable international career. He was a key component of his country's Euro 2004 triumph.
If this is to be the end, it is a sad way to go out, but his achievements will live longer in the memory than the manner of his departure against Japan.
Greece's Central Defensive Partnerhip Improved from the Opening Game
Manolas and Papastathopoulos played well against Colombia on Saturday, but they were even better against Japan.
Colombia managed to breach Greece's defences on three occasions, something which Japan were unable to do. This is partly due to the relative merits of Colombia and Japan's attacking play, but the virtually mistake-free performances of Manolas and Papastathopoulos were also key.
Dealing with crosses with relative ease, the two defenders also managed to retain phenomenal levels of positional discipline on the occasions when Japan varied their mode of attack and tried to work chances through the centre.
The defenders were helped by their midfield colleagues in these duties but played their own parts to great effect.
All in all, the central defenders put forth an extremely impressive performance.
Greece's Tactical Discipline Forced Japan to Play into Their Hands
As Japan attempted to find a way through the Greek defensive unit—essentially comprised of the entire Greek team—they often resorted to working the ball out wide before crossing it in.
This appeared to play against Japan's strengths and into Greece's, as, per the previous slide, Papastathopoulos and Manolas did a fine job of dealing with those crosses.
However, as frustrating as it may have been for Japanese fans to watch, Greece's high level of tactical discipline forced the Blue Samurai to send the ball to the flanks so often.
Even before the departure of Katsouranis, there were periods of the game where 21 players were in Greece's half, and once Greece were down to 10 men, they dropped ever deeper.
They held their shape extremely well, with Jose Holebas and Vasilis Torosidis mostly confining themselves to defensive duties and Giannis Maniatis and Giorgos Karagounis shielding the back four.
Even Greece's forwards spent a good deal of time on defensive duties, with Georgios Samaras making more tackles than any other Greek player—four, per Whoscored.com.
It was a battling team performance that was not pretty to watch but effective in forcing Japan's attack to play into Greece's defensive strengths.
The Lack of a Goalscorer Was Crucial for Both Sides
England's defeat to Uruguay in the earlier kick-off had shown just how important clinical finishing is to the balance of results in international football.
Both Japan and Greece suffered badly from the lack of an in-form striker.
For Greece, the departure through injury of Konstantinos Mitroglou marked the disappointing nadir of his World Cup campaign.
There can be little doubt that his ill-fated transfer to Fulham has had a disastrous effect on Greece's performances. In his Olympiakos form, he would have been exactly the sort of striker to make a telling impact in such a tightly contested game.
Some of Greece's build-up play was impressive, and Fernando Santos once again included Panagiotis Kone in his midfield to provide creativity, but ultimately no-one was able to finish the chances that were created.
With an effective front man, it could have been a very different story.
Orestis-Spyridon Karnezis Impressed Again
Orestis-Spyridon Karnezis has had a fine World Cup so far. It would be harsh to blame him for any of the three goals that Colombia put past Greece, and he was partially responsible for the clean sheet against Japan.
Confident when coming for crosses and a fine shot-stopper, he may see his club career push on, perhaps cementing a position as first-choice keeper at Granada or finding a move to a club where he can be the undisputed No. 1.
Fernando Santos Is Likely to Be Missed
Santos is stepping down as manager of the Greek national side at the end of this World Cup.
He has been an effective coach, helping Greece reach the quarter-finals of Euro 2012 and, of course, qualify for this World Cup.
His team selections at this tournament have shown a desire to provide more of an attacking platform for a side so profoundly associated with defensive football. Whilst it has not all clicked yet, it is clear that he has his side well-drilled. Whilst they were defeated by a superior Colombia side, it has not been an embarrassing showing.
Whoever takes charge after him will have big shoes to fill. It is likely that Santos will be missed.
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