FIFA World Cup, Japan vs Croatia: Shootout specialists Croatia do it again

Tuesday, 6 December 2022 (11:38 IST)
Croatia pulled off their third penalty shootout victory in their last five World Cup knockout matches to defeat Japan and reach the quarterfinals in Qatar.

Goalkeeper Dominik Livakovic saved three of the four spot-kicks he faced after the clash at the Al Janoub Stadium finished 1-1 at the end of a pulsating 120 minutes.

Despite captain and talisman Luka Modric being substituted off nine minutes into extra time, the 37-year-old let out a roar of relief on the sidelines after Mario Pasalic buried his penalty.

"It seems that we can't do it without a drama," Modric admitted. "We showed character when we came back from the deficit.

"Livi (Livakovic) performed a miracle today. A very tough, exhausting match and a very difficult game against a very tough team."

An ageing but resolute team

Come-from-behind extra-time wins during the World Cup knockout stages are becoming far more common for Croatia than the side or their fans may care for.

In all three of their knockout stage clashes at the tournament in Russia 2018, the Vatreni required 120 minutes. Former goalkeeper Danijel Subasic was the penalty hero during their round of 16 matches and quarterfinal wins over Denmark and Russia respectively.

Livakovic spent that tournament, which ended in final defeat to France, watching on from the bench, as backup keeper, and it was an experience that paid dividends.

`We in Croatia do things this way," he said. "You could see that four years ago as well. I continued the tradition."

Croatia spent large parts of their round of 16 match under pressure against Japan, as the Samurai Blue played with tenacity and pace to continually test their more experienced opponents.

After Daizen Maeda had reacted fastest to a loose ball in the box to open the scoring for Japan in the 43rd minute, it was down to veteran Ivan Perisic to bring Croatia level, with a headed the equaliser 10 minutes after the break.

With an aging side, head coach Zlatko Dalic rasied eyebrows by bring off Modric and Mateo Kovacic in the 99th minute. But the decision to introduce fresh legs in place of the experience paid off.

Dalic warned the remaining teams at the World Cup against writing off his side as they look to lift their maiden World Cup trophy.

"Don't ever underestimate a Croatian," he said. "Whenever this happens, one regrets it. We are going all the way.

"We're a small nation, but we're diligent, we're hard-working and we fight for what we want. When we started the penalty shootout today, I was very confident, and I trusted (Livakovic)."

A 'new era' for Japanese football

While Japan may have been attempting to reach their first ever World Cup quarterfinal, they looked far more at ease in Doha.

After surprising victories over Germany and Spain into the group stage, Hajime Moriyasu's side played with confidence and were particularly unlucky to see Wataru Endo's fierce shot tipped over the bar by Livakovic in regular time.

Ultimately their inexperience told, with only Takuma Asano converting his penalty during the shootout. But head coach Moriyasu offered a rallying cry to his players after the match.

"The players showed us the future, a new era of Japanese football," he said. "They should use this feeling of being upset and try to go further next time.

"We beat Germany, we beat Spain... If we take confidence in that, and if we think about overtaking these teams rather than just catching up, the future is bright.

"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.''

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