NATAL, Brazil — Reduced to 10 men after captain Costas Katsouranis was sent off in the 38th minute with his second booking, Greece held on for a 0-0 draw with Japan on Thursday that kept both alive in Group C and sent rival Colombia through to the knockout round of the World Cup.
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. Greece surrendered three goals in a loss to Colombia, but even short-handed was better organized against Japan and avoided any critical mistakes.
"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."
Katsouranis will be suspended for Greece's final group match against Ivory Coast.
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 Atsuto 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 was determined to turn around its dismal scoring history in the World Cup — 18 goals conceded against just two scored — inserting Kostas Mitroglou up front. 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.
"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."
Japan, which had been beaten up in a physical matchup with Ivory Coast in a 2-1 opening loss, once again had to deal with a bigger, stronger and much taller opponent.
Coach Japan coach Alberto Zaccheroni dropped Kagawa from the starting lineup in surprise move, putting veteran striker Okubo up front with Europe-based star Keisuke Honda.
Okubo had one of Japan's best chances to score in the first half but sent his header over the crossbar in the 33rd minute
Zaccheroni was frustrated Japan didn't use its speed to exploit the spaces left by Greece being short a player. A win over Colombia won't guarantee Japans moves on to the next round. If Ivory Coast beats Greece, Japan will go home.
"We played too slowly," Zaccheroni said. "This is not a positive result. We absolutely needed to win."