Japan 0 Croatia 0: Kawaguchi's penalty save keeps Japan's dream alive

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Yoshikatsu Kawaguchi put in an inspired performance between the posts for Japan as the Asian champions kept their slim World Cup hopes alive with a 0-0 draw with Croatia in Nuremberg on Sunday.

A top class display in the opening 45 minutes from the former Portsmouth goalkeeper - which included a penalty save from Darijo Srna - denied the Croatians and means both teams have to win their final game to have any chance of progressing to the knockout phase.

While the Croatians face Guus Hiddink's Australia in the last day of Group F action, the task will be significantly tougher for Japan as they take on defending champions and tournament favourites Brazil as they look to qualify for the last 16 for the second World Cup in a row.

Just as he did before Japan's late capitulation against Australia, Kawaguchi's heroics in goal kept his team in the game as the Croatians created the better chances at the Franken-Stadion.

There was no better opportunity for Zlatko Kranjcar's team than in the 22nd minute, when they were awarded a penalty for a foul by Japanese captain Tsuneyasu Miyamoto on Dado Prso.

Miyamoto, who was booked for the infringement and will miss the Brazil game after also picking up a yellow card against the Socceroos, was beaten as he tussled with the Rangers striker for a bouncing ball and, as he turned to recover, he brought down the former Monaco man.

But it was to count for nothing as Kawaguchi guessed correctly to deny Srna, diving to his left to turn the spot-kick around the post and away for the relative safety of a corner.

Japan offered little beyond a long-range threat in the first half with Alex firing his shot across the face of goal before the Croatians again went on the offensive as Niko Kranjcar turned Takashi Fukunishi on the edge of the area before slamming a powerful shot against Kawaguchi's crossbar.

The Japanese almost conceded the most bizarre goal of the competition so far with 11 minutes left in the half when Akira Kaji's back pass to Kawaguchi bounced awkwardly off the turf and beyond the goalkeeper, but fortunately for Zico's team the ball rolled wide of the goal and out for a corner.

Japan presented a sporadic goal threat and, two minutes later, Stipe Pletikosa was tested between the Croatian posts when he was forced to dive to his left to turn Hidetoshi Nakata's 30-yard drive away from goal while at the other end Kawaguchi completed the half with another fine save, denying Klasnic after his shot on the turn from the edge of the area.

The introduction of 2002 World Cup hero Junichi Inamoto for Fukunishi saw the Japanese present more of a threat from the start of the second half and within six minutes of the resumption Japan should have taken the lead.

But Atsushi Yanagisawa had what was arguably the miss of the tournament so far when he shot well wide after Kaji's one-two with Naohiro Takahara left the Kashima Antlers striker with the simplest of finishes with Pletikosa well out of the picture.

Three minutes later the action had shifted to the other end of the pitch as Klasnic's perfect ball behind the Japanese defence rolled into the path of Kranjcar, who should have done better than allow Kawaguchi to collect comfortably.

Neither another long-range effort from Nakata nor a header that was glanced wide by Josip Simunic caused either keeper any serious trouble as the heat started to take its toll and the point allows both teams to continue dreaming of making it into the last 16.