Croatia advanced to the World Cup quarterfinals after defeating Japan 3-1 on penalties, with three saves from Dominik Livakovic during the shootout, after a 1-1 deadlock after 120 minutes. It was the first knockout game in Qatar to be extended by half an hour after a generally level 90 minutes, as Japan tried to beat their third consecutive European opponent after shocking triumphs over Germany and Spain in the group stages.
Both goals came on either side of the halftime break. After some gritty Croatian defending, Daizen Maeda (43) gave Japan the lead in the first half, however Ivan Perisic’s (55) powerful header levelled immediately after the break. It was somewhat unsurprising that the game proceeded to extra time; seven of Croatia’s last eight knockout games at major championships required extra time, with the country most recently falling to Spain in the round of 16 of Euro 2020 last summer.
Japan 1-1 Croatia
Again, there was little to choose between the two sides during extra-time, with Kaoru Mitoma and Lovro Majer coming closest for their respective countries, and the teams deserved to be separated by a lottery of penalties. Despite their outstanding performance throughout the competition, three of Japan’s penalties were badly executed and easily saved by goalie Livakovic. Croatia only missed one of their four penalty kicks, scoring the other three to go to the quarter-finals for the third time in a row.
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Japan’s head coach, Hajime Moriyasu, revealed after the game that he did not select the penalty takers, saying, “I asked the players to chose for themselves.” I would want to commend the players’ efforts under such extreme strain. We must accept this outcome, but I doubt we will yield to pressure. I thought the goalkeeper was fantastic, and the players who took the penalty kicks were very brave. In the end, we obviously wanted to win, and the outcome is terrible, but it is what it is. It does not negate all of the players’ efforts.
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AET (1-3 on pens) in last-16 clash
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The Al Janoub Stadium saw an end-to-end opening. In a vibrant Japan opening, Shogo Taniguchi nodded narrowly wide from a short corner before Maeda charged down Livakovic. At the other end, there was a goalmouth scramble, with Shuichi Gonda thwarting Perisic before pouncing on the loose ball. While Croatia continued to dominate possession – Perisic’s header midway through the half was deflected away from Andrej Kramaic at the back post – Japan had the better chances. Ito produced a fantastic low cross into the area, but neither Maeda nor Yuto Nagatomo were able to covert it. Daichi Kamada then hit a close-range wide shot.
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Japan gained a well-deserved lead shortly before the break. Ritsu Doan received a short corner and fired a fantastic cross into the area. It was nodded on in the centre, and because Croatia was unable to clear, Maeda was able to stick a foot through and send the ball home. Japan gave Croatia another scare early in the second half, but a fantastic moment from Perisic brought Croatia level. Tottenham striker Harry Kane emphatically nodded home beyond Gonda after Dejan Lovren supplied a long cross.
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Both teams continued to trade punches, forcing the goalkeepers to work overtime. Wataru Endo’s long-range shot forced Livakovic to save with his fingertip. Luka Modric then unleashed a tremendous volley on goal, but a leaping Gonda saved his spectacular effort. Croatia quickly gained control as their tournament experience came to the fore. Ante Budimir had a few shots deflected wide, while Perisic’s left-footed effort was also deflected past the post. However, neither team could add another as the game entered the first period of extra time in the 2022 World Cup.
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Neither team wanted to give anything away in the first 15 minutes, but Mitoma of Brighton fashioned a fantastic chance out of nothing. He stormed down the field, almost covering the entire pitch, but his final effort was expertly blocked by Livakovic. The second session of extra time had more vigour, with Lovro Majer hitting wide of the target with the penultimate kick, but neither team was able to score again, sending the game to penalties.
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However, Japan performed poorly in the shootout. Only Takuma Asano scored, as Livakovic stopped spot kicks from Minamino, Mitoma, and Maya Yoshida. Croatia’s only miss came from Marko Livaja, who struck the post before Mario Pasalic netted the game-winning penalty.
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