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 of their critical match against Greece.
For much of the match it looked like the gambit would work, as Japan threatened Greece’s goal time and again. But in the end Japan were unable to convert any of the multitude of chances they created with Greece a man down – and the 0-0 result means they need 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.