After a promising first half which saw a penalty saved by Japanese keeper Yoshikatsu Kawaguchi and plenty of chances for both teams, the match turned into a mess of missed shots, poor passes and offside calls.

Croatia had an excellent chance to take the ascendancy in the first half after being awarded a penalty in the 21st minute but Jubilo Iwata shot stopper Kawaguchi put his name into the stat book with the first penalty save for the 2006 tournament.

Japanese captain Tsuneyasu Miyamoto fouled striker Dada Prso in the box resulting in the penalty, and a yellow card for the Gamba Osaka defender meaning he will miss his side’s next match against Brazil.

Shakhtar Donetsk midfielder Darijo Srna stepped up to take the spot kick, but Kawaguchi saved brilliantly, diving at full stretch to his left to fend the ball away.

Japan coach Zico chose to bring on West Bromwich Albion player Junichi Inamoto for fellow midfielder Takashi Fukunishi at half time, with the Japanese midfield seeming to lose all shape and cohesion after that point.

Feeling blue: Japan coach Zico
watches the 0-0 draw

The Blues looked best when they sent the ball wide to wingers Akira Kaji and Alex who showed pace in attack and plenty of guile with some nice crosses.

For the team in the checkerboard print, Dado Prso tried hard up front while coach’s son Niko Kranjcar was often amongst the action before being subbed off.

If Srna was in a despondent mood after his penalty miss, then Atsushi Yanagisawa would know how he felt after a howling miss when in front of an open goal in the 51st minute, while three minutes later Kranjcar also missed a good chance when he had to stretch for a ball in the box just minutes later.

Clear headers by Niko Kovac and Josip Simunic went close but both players should have done better given the connection they made in what was a frustrating second half for the Croatians.

Earlier, Kranjcar hit a 20 yard effort over the bar in the 28th minute after he spun to beat the Japanese defender, while Robert Kovac was awarded a yellow card in the 32nd minute meaning he will miss Croatia’s final group match against Australia.

Bolton Wanderers midfielder Hidetoshi Nakata lashed a stunning effort goal bound in the 36th minute, but Croatian keeper Stipe Pletikosa made a save to match the effort of his opposite number Kawaguchi.

Prso should have done better with a free header from a corner with just minutes left in the half, but instead put the ball over the bar to leave things even at the break.