Croatia and Japan played out a disappointing 0-0 in Nuremberg – a result which does neither team any favours in their pursuit of a place in the last 16.
In scorching temperatures neither side was short on effort, but a failure to convert chances ensured the game petered out into a frustrating goalless draw. Croatia will rue a missed penalty in the first half, but on the balance of play Japan deserved the point.
Croatia stuck with the same line-up that faced Brazil, while Japan coach Zico picked Ogasawara instead of Keisuke Tsuboi, with Kaji back from a foot injury, also included.
Both teams needed a win to have any real chance of reaching the second round after losing their opening matches.
The early stages were open with both teams, in search of the win, throwing caution to the wind. Nakamura was seeing a lot of the ball early on, prompting much of Japan’s better work while Croatia were playing a direct game looking to hit Prso and Klasnic with long balls.
Indeed it was one such ball that found Prso in the penalty box. The Rangers striker turned Miyamoto but as he advanced he was clipped by the defender and the referee had no hesitation in pointing the penalty spot. Srna stepped up and struck his shot firmly to the left of Kawaguchi, but the keeper, at full length, tipped the shot away for a corner.
The coach’s son Niko Kranjcar, whose inclusion in the team had prompted allegations of nepotism back in Croatia, came close to silencing his critics when he turned well just outside the area before striking a stunning shot that rebounded off the bar.
At the other end, Pletikosa had to be alert to stop a rising shot from Ogasawara as the game flowed from one end to the other. The Croatian keeper was called upon again shortly afterwards when Nakata fired in another long-range effort that required a full length save.
The chances came thick and fast and five minutes before the interval Klasnic was denied by a fine stop from Kawaguchi.
Immediately after the break Japan should have gone ahead when a neat one two freed Kaji who crossed for Yanagisawa, but from five yards out he somehow struck his shot wide. Moments later Croatia had an equally good chance, when a sweeping move reached Kranjcar but he toe poked his effort just wide.
However, as the half reached the midway point the game appeared to be heading for stalemate. Both teams were showing plenty of endeavour but a lack of quality in the final third meant that a goal for either side looked unlikely.
The respective coaches Zico and Kranjcar both made attacking substitutions in an attempt to galvanise their respective teams, but a combination of the heat and fatigue meant that much of the play remained one-paced and scrappy.
The draw was not much use to either team, although for Japan, who face Brazil in their final group game, the result could prove terminal to their chances of progressing. Croatia must hope that Australia lose to Brazil and beat Guus Hiddink’s team in their final match to reach the knockout stages.
Croatia: Stipe Pletikosa; Dario Simic, Robert Kovac, Josip Simunic; Darijo Srna, Niko Kovac, Igor Tudor, Marko Babic, Niko Kranjcar; Ivan Klasnic, Dado Prso.
Subs used: Olic 70 (for Tudor), Modric 78 (for Kranjcar), Bosniak 87 (for Srna).
Bookings: Kovac 32, Kawaguchi 42, Srna 69
Japan: Yoshikatsu Kawaguchi; Takashi Fukunishi, Yuji Nakazawa, Tsuneyasu Miyamoto, Alex; Shunsuke Nakamura, Hidetoshi Nakata, Akira Kaji, Mitsuo Ogasawara; Atsushi Yanagisawa, Naohiro Takahara.
Subs used: Inamoto 46 (for Fukunishi) Yanagisawa 62 (for Yanagisawa) Oguro 85 (for Takahara).
Bookings: Miyamoto 21
Referee: Frank De Bleeckere (Belgium).