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Croatia Ends Japan's Unforgettable Run at the FIFA World Cup In a Penalty Shootout

After stunning upsets of Germany and Spain in Group E at the FIFA World Cup, the Samurai Blue were eliminated in the round of 16 for the fourth time.

Second-half drama defined Japan's comeback victories over former FIFA World Cup champions Germany and Spain in Group E matches on November 23 and December 1.

There was no spellbinding comeback in the quarterfinals for the Samurai Blue. Instead, Croatia, the 2018 World Cup runner-up defeated Japan 3-1 in a penalty shootout in a round of 16 match on Monday night, December 5 in Al Wakrah, Qatar.

The Samurai Blue's hopes of reaching the World Cup quarterfinals for the first time ended at 2:44 AM JST on Tuesday.

Up next: World No. 12 Croatia, riding a 10-match unbeaten streak in international play this year, faces Brazil, which defeated South Korea 4-1 in Monday's second round of 16 match, on Friday, December 9.

Daizen Maeda scored for Japan in the 43rd minute. Croatia's Ivan Perisic tied it at 1-1 in the 55th minute. 

In 30 minutes of extra time, neither team scored, forcing penalty kicks to determine the winner at Al Janoub Stadium.

Croatia finished with 17 shots to Japan's 13. The Europeans had 724 passes to Japan's 524.

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Details of the Penalty Shootout

The penalty shootout began at 2:37 JST, with millions of Japan national team fans staying awake to watch the match.

Croatia goalkeeper Dominik Livakovic delivered a noteworthy performance in the penalty shootout, stopping three shots. In doing so, he became the third goalie in a World Cup shootout to make three saves. The others? Portugal's Ricardo in 2006 (against England) and Croatia's Danijel Subasic in 2018 (against Denmark), according to Stats Perform.

Takumi Minamino was the first shooter. Livakovic, a backup on the 2018 squad, made a diving stop.

Nikola Vlasic then scored past Japan goalkeeper Shuichi Gonda.

Kaoru Mitoma's shot, a grounder, was stonewalled by Livakovic.

Marcelo Brozovic repeated teammate Vlasic's feat to make it 2-0.

Takuma Asano kept Japan's hopes alive, cutting the margin to 2-1.

After misses by Croatia's Marko Livaja (hitting the post) and Japan captain Maya Yoshida, Mario Pasalic sealed the victory with Croatia's third penalty-shootout goal. 

From the sideline, Croatia's players rushed onto the field to celebrate with Livakovic and the shootout participants.

Japan Manager's Perspective

Japan manager Hajime Moriyasu said his team's performance at this World Cup is an important step in its development.

"The players showed a new era of Japanese football, I think,” Moriyasu said after the match, according to The Associated Press. "They should use this feeling of being upset and try to go further next time.

"We cannot be superheroes in one go. We have to improve step by step. But Japan is reaching a level where we can play on the world stage."

In Yoshida's view, the loss is "really hard to take."

Speaking to reporters after the match, he added, according to Australia's ABC News: "Every day for four years we worked hard to break this barrier [by reaching the final eight], but we couldn't get the result we wanted."

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Thriving Under Pressure

En route to the 2018 World Cup final, Croatia won two matches in penalty shootouts, topping Denmark 3-2 in the round of 16 and Russia 4-3 in the quarterfinals.

"We in Croatia do things this way, you could see that four years ago as well," Livakovic told reporters after his standout performance against Japan. "I continued the tradition."

Japan's World Cup penalty shootout history consisted of one match ― a 5-3 loss to Paraguay in the round of 16 in 2010 ― before facing Croatia.

Japan reached the round of 16th for the fourth time, following appearances in 2002, 2010 and 2018. 

It was the third World Cup match between Japan and Croatia, but their first encounter in the sport's biggest tournament in 16 years.

In 1998, Croatia beat Japan 1-0 in France. Eight years later, the teams played to a scoreless draw. Both matches were in the group stage.

How Croatia Tied it Up

In the 55th minute, Croatia's Dejan Lovren lofted a picture-perfect long pass to Perisic in the box. Perisic then banged in a header that twisted beyond the reach of Gonda into the bottom right corner of the goal. That made it 1-1.

The 33-year-old Perisic, who plies his craft for the English Premier League's Tottenham Spurs, now has six goals in his 14 World Cup matches.

In the 58th minute, Wataru Endo booted a shot that curled toward the upper portion of the goal, and Livakovic tipped it over the bar.

With everything on the line, the next 30-plus minutes were a spirited clash as both teams sought to break the tie.

But neither team scored for the rest of the second half nor in five minutes of stoppage time, sending the game into extra time at 1:57 AM JST.

Key Moments in the Opening Half

For Japan, Shogo Taniguchi had a solid scoring opportunity in the third minute. But the defender's header sailed wide of its target.

As the minutes elapsed, both teams played with high energy while looking for any offensive advantage they could find, seeking to exploit any defensive miscues.

Ritsu Doan, who scored Japan's tying goals in the second half against Germany and Spain in a pair of 2-1 comeback victories, made his first start of the tournament. Doan helped initiate a scoring chance for Japan. After a corner kick, he gathered the ball off a pass and rifled a cross into the box.

In the right place at the right time, Yoshida kept the ball in play by kicking it toward the ground. And Maeda, who plays for Celtic FC in the Scottish Premiership, pounced on a loose ball in the box in the 43rd minute and smashed it past Livakovic, giving Japan a 1-0 advantage. Yoshida was credited with an assist.

For the first time at the 2022 World Cup, Japan entered the second half with the lead. What's more, the Samurai Blue scored their only first-half goal of the tournament against Croatia.


Author: Ed Odeven

Follow Ed on JAPAN Forward's [Japan Sports Notebook] here on Sundays, in [Odds and Evens] here during the week, and Twitter @ed_odeven.


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