Japan and their coach Zico rejoiced after a 76th minute strike from supersub Masashi Oguro earned them their first points in the tournament and dispatched the European Champions in the process.
The Japanese elation was an exact mirror to the gloom surrounding the now rather mediocre looking Greeks, who seem unworthy to be considered champions of Europe with abject performances like today’s.
It seemed as if Otto Rehagel or ‘Rehakles’ as he is called, had taken Zico’s admission that his side struggle with high balls all too seriously as the Greeks played ‘hit and hope’ all evening, pumping aerial ball after aerial ball to almost no discernible effect. That they had no back-up when their system clearly was in need of changing sits curiously at odds with the tactical nous of Rehagel that was widely admired as the brains behind Greece’s remarkable poaching of the Henri Delaunay trophy in Lisbon last summer.
In contrast Japan were a good advert for football. They used the width of the field to great effect and passed fluently and elgantly along the deck with Hidetoshi Nakata’s elegant approach play once more a delight to behold. Like Greece, Japan lack a group of talented individuals but the sum of their parts has produced an elegant teamplay that fuses tactical awareness and the importance of keeping one’s shape with skilful close control and brisk one-touch passing.
Greece had tried to take advantage of Japan’s traditional shortcoming, the lack of physical presence, in the opening exchanges but soon the Asian champions’ slick counter-attacking game was bypassing the Europeans’ brawn.
Japanese muscles were first flexed after eight minutes when Keiji Tamada fired wide with Shunsuke Nakamura unmarked and then five minutes later when Mitsuo Ogasawara almost lobbed Antonios Nikopolidis …