QATAR: Four years after Croatia stunned the world in the World Cup in Russia, the European team showed resilience to defeat Japan 3-1.
After a 1-1 draw at Al Janoub Stadium, they defeated Japan 3-1 on penalties to advance to the quarterfinals. On Friday, they will play either South Korea or Brazil in the quarterfinals.
Croatia’s penalty shootout victory opens the gateway for quarterfinals
Croatia started poorly compared to Japan, conceding a goal to the upset artists of the tournament just before halftime. However, Ivan Perisic’s thunderous header in the second half equalised the score.
Dominik Livakovic saved the first three Japanese penalties to give Croatia a hammerlock on the shootout. Neither team could make a convincing case for meriting the victory in extra time.
Mario Pasalic scored the game-winning penalty, beating Shuichi Gonda with his final kick after another Livakovic save. The Croatians stormed onto the field while the Japanese lowered their heads.
After defeating Germany and Spain in the group stage, Japan was widely considered the tournament’s dark horse. When Daizen Maeda scored from close range just before the break, Japan led, and it appeared they might pull off another upset.
Regardless, after a first half in which they were far too relaxed under lock and key, Croatia was more precise after the break and had better chances as the game progressed.
Kaoru Mitoma’s hopeful deflected shot in the first half of extra time was one of Japan’s best, but they could not add any more drama in the end. The outcome seemed inevitable when Takumi Minamino and Mitoma missed the mark.
Earlier in the match, Japan neutralised Croatia’s advantage in the middle by playing from the wings. They created multiple goal-scoring opportunities from wide of the field before taking the lead.
However, they appeared uneasy playing with the lead in the second half, and their lauded counterattack never quite worked. The shootout was disappointing from the start. A tournament that served as an inspiration for Japan comes to an end with a familiar brutal conclusion.