Croatia beat Japan on penalties to advance to the World Cup quarter-finals after a tense, tactical battle ended 1-1 after 120 minutes.
Croatia won two penalty shootouts en route to the World Cup final in 2018. Their reward for this one is a daunting matchup with Brazil on Friday, Dec. 9.
Japan was worthy of the 1-0 lead at halftime and should have taken the lead earlier after putting in numerous dangerous crosses inside the first 20 minutes. Croatia failed to heed the warning signs, and the Japanese eventually got their reward after another dangerous cross led to a goal for Daizen Maeda.
Croatia equalized through a venomous header from Ivan Perisic that required him to generate an extraordinary amount of power to beat Gonda in the Japan goal.
As the game progressed, neither side wanted to make the mistake that would cost them a place in the next round, so extra time and penalties was almost inevitable.
Three penalty saves from keeper Dominik Livakovic ultimately sent Croatia through to the next round and spelled the end of a remarkable tournament for Japan.
Expected goals (xG): Croatia 0.77, Japan 0.58
A 1-1 draw was a fair result between two teams aiming to avoid defeat more than they were trying to win. Japan’s xG total — and goal total — could have been higher had some good crosses found their target early on. However, the fact there were just 22 shots over 120 minutes shows how defensively resilient both teams were.
Man of the Match: Wataru Endo
In a valiant effort in a disheartening loss, Endo anchored a Japan midfield that managed to stifle a highly renowned Croatian trio. Endo’s cross in the third minute was one of the best in the tournament so far and led to a clear chance for Shogo Taniguchi that should have been converted.
Endo had the third-highest number of pressures applied in the match (40), while his six clearances and eight won challenges highlight the all-round performance that gave Japan a serious chance of making history and progressing through to the quarter-finals for the first time.
Best Passer: Wataru Endo
The VfB Stuttgart midfielder completed 84.5% of his passes as Japan kept possession of the ball more successfully than against Germany and Spain. He completed 12 line-breaking passes, the second-most in the match, and his 80% completion rate on line-breaking passes is impressive because he attempted a line-break on 25.9% of his total passes in the match.
Endo completed two defensive-line-breaking passes and two through-balls.
Best Challenger: Dejan Lovren
The Croatian stalwart won 18 of the 22 challenges he was involved in, a single-game high at the tournament, even if that number is inflated because of extra time.
He won 14 out of his 17 aerial duels as he helped defend from a plethora of dangerous Japanese crosses.
Dominik Livakovic was the hero for Croatia in the penalty shootout, saving three of Japan's penalties. In truth, the quality of Japan’s shots was poor, as the Croatian shot-stopper did not have to do much but guess the right way to save them.
Shuichi Gonda could do nothing to stop Perisic’s bullet header and could not match Livakovic's heroics in the penalty shootout.