Hoping to make lightning strike the same place thrice, giant killers Japan took on heavyweights Croatia in the last 16 of the 2022 FIFA World Cup on Monday (5 December). Japan came close to extending their dream run, but Dominik Livakovic’s heroics in the penalty shootout denied them a victory in the last 16. The Kockasti won the shootout 3-1 after the game ended 1-1 at the end of regulation time.
The Samurai Blue enjoyed a blistering start at the Al Janoub Stadium, coming agonizingly close to scoring the opener after a couple of minutes of play. Wataru Endo delivered a teasing cross into the box, which Shogo Taniguchi met from a mere six yards out. Unfortunately, the center-back could not keep his effort on target.
In the ninth minute, Japan right-back Takehiro Tomiyasu under-hit his pass to the keeper, allowing Ivan Perisic to steal it and have a go at goal. The underdogs reacted well to the threat and eventually extinguished it. Four minutes later, Junya Ito delivered a teasing cross into Croatia’s box. Daizen Maeda slid in to make contact but ultimately failed to do so by the narrowest of margins.
In the 43rd minute, Japan made their superiority count. Ritsu Doan delivered an excellent corner into the box. Maya Yoshida won the initial header and directed it onto Maeda’s path. The Celtic man made no mistake turning it in from close range.
Having been under the cosh for the majority of the first half, Croatia finally hit back through Perisic 10 minutes into the second 45. Dejan Lovren swung in a cross from the right, and Perisic scored a thumping header to restore parity for his team.
In the 66th minute, Andrej Kramaric delivered a teasing cross into the Japanese box for Ante Budimir. The substitute shockingly failed to hit the target from close range. With nothing separating the two teams, the match went into extra time.
In the 105th minute, substitute Kaoru Mitoma went for goal with a powerful drive from outside the box. Croat keeper Livakovic made a strong save to keep the underdogs from pulling ahead.
With the scoreline at 1-1 at the end of extra time, the match went to penalties. Livakovic made three stunning saves in the shootout to take his team to the final eight in Qatar. Here are five major takeaways from the nailbiter at the Al Janoub Stadium on Monday:
#5 Japan enjoyed an electric start to the game
Bubbling with confidence after their massive comeback wins over Germany and Spain, Japan enjoyed a lively start in the round of 16 of the 2022 FIFA World Cup. They made life difficult for the 2018 FIFA World Cup finalists with their relentless pressing and rapid counter-attacks.
Taniguchi had an excellent opportunity to score the first goal of the match after just three minutes of play. Croatia keeper Livakovic would have been beaten had the defender managed to keep his header on target. In the 13th minute, Ito outfoxed Borna Borisic to send a menacing cross into the box. Maeda failed to make contact by the narrowest of margins. With a bit of luck, Japan could have been two goals to the good inside the first 15 minutes.
#4 Wataru Endo ran the show in the 2022 FIFA World Cup last 16
Wataru Endo was arguably the best player on the pitch on Monday. He created opportunities at will, held his own in one-on-one duels, and fulfilled his defensive responsibilities, making life incredibly difficult for the opposition.
Against Croatia, Endo played a match-high four key passes, won six ground duels, created two big chances, and completed 60 accurate passes (88.2% accuracy). He also delivered two accurate long balls, made five clearances, blocked a shot, and attempted two tackles. Considering the shift he put in, It was disappointing to see him end up on the losing side.
#3 2022 FIFA World Cup witnessed its first penalty shootout
After Perisic canceled out Maeda’s opener, the two teams struggled to play meaningful football inside the final third. The Vatreni primarily tried to bypass their opponents with long balls over the top but rarely managed to make Gonda work.
The Samurai Blue, on the other hand, either drilled crosses into the box or tried to play through the middle. Neither option proved to be very effective as the 2018 finalists managed to deal with their attempts rather easily.
Level at 1-1, the match went to extra time, and later penalties, where Croatia eventually came out on top. Nikola Vlasic, Marcelo Brozovic, and Mario Pasalic (decisive kick) converted their spot-kicks while Takuma Asano put away Japan’s only successful penalty. Marko Livaja was the only Croat to miss his kick, while Takumi Minamino, Kaoru Mitoma, and Maya Yoshida saw their efforts saved by Livakovic. It is safe to say that the first shootout in Qatar was quite an eventful one.
It was Croatia’s third consecutive successful penalty shootout at the FIFA World Cup. Japan, on the other hand, endured their second defeat on penalties in World Cup history.
#2 Luka Modric had a game to forget
Real Madrid superstar Luka Modric struggled to impose himself in the clash against Samurai Blue. He ran tirelessly and made himself available time and time again, but he did not have much to show for his efforts. Except for an impeccable half-volleyed effort in the 63rd minute, which Shuichi Gonda saved superbly, Modric did not produce anything to write home about.
On Monday night, Modric failed to play any key passes, lost eight of 10 duels, lost possession 17 times, and misplaced four of five attempted crosses. The 37-year-old was also dribbled past on a couple of occasions before being taken off in the 99th minute.
#1 Ivan Perisic and Dominik Livakovic take Croatia to the quarter-finals
Ivan Perisic and Dominik Livakovic led by example to take their team through to the quarter-finals. Perisic superbly connected with Lovren’s delivery in the 55th minute and directed his powerful header into the bottom left corner of Gonda’s goal. Perisic also played a key pass, won five aerial duels, and delivered an accurate cross.
Livakovic, on the other hand, was the unabashed hero of the penalty shootout, making three stunning saves to take his team to a 1-3 victory in the shootout. He dove to his left to stop Takumi Minamino’s strike from going in. Next, Mitoma went left with his kick, and again, Livakovic guessed correctly and made a stunning diving save by lunging to his right.
Livakovic’s third penalty save came against Maya Yoshida. The defender failed to find the left corner with his kick, making for a rather comfortable save for Livakovic. Before the shootout, Livakovic made three saves and delivered eight accurate long balls (from open play).