Croatia, vice-world champion in 2018, will be in the quarter-finals of the 2022 World Cup. The Croats suffered on Monday, December 5, against Japan in the round of 16 at Al Wakrah. But with experience, they returned to the level of their tough opponents before snatching their ticket for the next round at the end of the suspense (1-1, shots on goal 4 to 2). Croatia will face Brazil or South Korea.
They had already overthrown Germany (2-1), four-time world champion, in the first round. They had repeated the same feat against Spain (2-1) and at the same time obtained their sesame for the round of 16. But there will be no third feat against a big European nation for the Japanese in this World Cup in Qatar. This December 5, the Japanese leave the competition with their heads held high.
Opposed to Croatia, finalist of the last World Cup, Japan did not have cold feet. It is not in the nature of coach Hajime Moriyasu’s men to be impressed, even against the vice-world champion. At the Al Janoub stadium, the Samurai Blue entered the field with the best intentions, even though possession of the ball was Croatian.
Maeda’s efforts paid off
Admittedly, Croatia got the first chances in Al Wakrah. But the Japanese offensives made spectators and defenders shiver as captain Maya Yoshida and his teammates put intensity in each game action. And after an unconverted chance by Daichi Kamada (41st), Japan exulted through by Daizen Maeda.
Untenable since kick-off, as if equipped with three lungs, the Celtic player in Scotland was rewarded. On a corner, the Croatian defense failed to repel the danger, Yoshida was able to pass the ball to Maeda who only had to place his shot to beat Dominik Livakovic (43rd). Just before the break, Croatia went down on one knee.
Perisic has restored order
The kick-off of the second half was synonymous with a new match. Maybe the Japanese were tired? Unless it’s the Croats who have decided to wake up? Whatever the reasons. The reality is that on the pitch, Croatia have taken the lead. And unsurprisingly, Zlatko Dalic’s men saw their domination pay off: on a cross from Dejan Lovren, Ivan Perisic placed a powerful header and brought his team to 1-1 (55th).
Reassured, Croatia kept their hand and Luka Modric almost gave his side the advantage with one of his powerful shots of which he has the secret. But the maestro came up against the firm hand of Shuichi Gonda (63rd). Behind, a header from Ante Budimir grazed the post (66th) and Perisic lacked precision on a shot (77th). Withdrawn into their camp, the Japanese did not yield. For the first time in this World Cup, a match went into overtime.
The 30 minutes of additional play did not allow the two selections to decide. Livakovic repelled the heavy strike from Kaoru Mitoma (105th) and the Croatian attackers failed to force the Japanese lock before the end of extra time. The inevitable penalty shootout then loomed.
In this exercise, the Croats immediately took the lead with Livakovic’s two saves in front of Minamino then Mitoma. Japan regained hope when Livaja sent her shot to the post. But Livakovic fired a third of four shots against Asano. And Pasalic endorsed the victory of the vice-world champions.