Croatia reached the quarter-finals of the World Cup after beating Japan 3-1 on penalties – including a hat-trick from Dominik Livakovic in the shootout – following a 1-1 draw after 120 minutes.
It was the first knock-out game to play half an hour of extra time in Qatar after 90 minutes as Japan looked to beat their third straight European opponent following shock wins against Germany and Spain in the group stages.
Both goals came either side of the break. Daizen Maeda (43) gave Japan the lead in the first half after saving Croatia, before Ivan Perisic’s (55) powerful goal just after the restart.
Perhaps it was no surprise that the game went to extra time – seven of Croatia’s last eight matches in major competitions have required extra time, most recently losing to Spain in the last 16 of Euro 2020 last summer.
Once again, there was no choice between the two sides in extra time – Kaoru Mitoma and Lovro Majer getting closer for their countries – and it was supposed to be a lottery of penalties to separate the teams.
However, in their best performance of the tournament, three of Japan’s penalties were missed and easily saved by goalkeeper Livakovic. Croatia missed just one of their matches, scoring the other three to reach their third consecutive quarterfinal.
How Croatia cruised past Japan to the last eight
This was the last opening ceremony at Al Janoub Stadium. Shogo Taniguchi nodded after a small corner before Maeda dropped Livakovic in the opening round in Japan. Then there was a flurry at the other end, Shuichi Gonda denying Perisic before knocking the ball down.
Big game moments…
- 3rd min: Taniguchi focuses on Japan’s first opener.
- 12th min: Ito sends in a low cross, but Maeda and Nagatomo can’t connect.
- 41st min: Kamada is on fire after some great play from Japan down the left.
- 44 min: Maeda gives Japan the lead after a short corner.
- 55th min: Perisic equalizes for Croatia with a powerful header.
- 57 min: Endo forces a finger save from Livakovic as Japan look for an immediate response to Croatia’s goal.
- 63rd min: Modric forces a brilliant save from Gonda with a powerful volley.
- 104 minutes: A brilliant drive by Mitoma and a shot is well saved by Livakovic.
- Notes: Livakovic makes three saves to see Croatia win 3-1 on penalties.
While Croatia continued to look good – Perisic’s header midway through the half glanced wide of Andrej Kramaic at the back – it was Japan who had the better chances.
Ito delivered a low cross into the area, but neither Maeda nor Yuto Nagatomo could cover it. Then Daichi Kamada shot from close range.
- Arsenal’s Takehiro Tomiyasu came on for the suspended Ko Itakura as one of three substitutes. Wataru Endo and Ritsu Doan also got in the middle of the game for Takefusa Kubo and Ao Tanaka, who scored for Spain.
- Rangers’ Borna Barisic and Bruno Petkovic both started for Croatia as part of two changes from their 0-0 draw with Belgium. Marko Livaja and Borna Sosa, who is not well and is not in the team, made way.
Just before the break, Japan took the lead for good measure. A small corner was used for Ritsu Doan, who sent the best cross into the area. He wobbled through the middle and Croatia couldn’t break free, allowing Maeda to get through with a foot and send the ball home.
Japan gave their opponents another scare early in the second half, but a fine minute from Perisic saw Croatia level. Dejan Lovren crossed deep, the Tottenham striker nodding hard past Gonda.
The two teams continued to trade active players. Wataru Endo’s shot from the box forced a toe save from Livakovic. Luka Modric then sent in a thunderous volley, but the leaping Gonda kept his effort level.
Soon, Croatia began to dominate as their competition began to emerge. Ante Budimir conceded a low effort, and Perisic’s left-footed effort was also deflected.
However, neither side managed to add another as the game heads into the first round of the 2022 World Cup.
Neither side wanted to give anything away in the first 15 minutes, but Brighton and Hove Albion created good chances for nothing. He came down the pitch, almost covering the entire area, but his effort was expertly saved by Livakovic.
There was plenty of energy in the second half of extra time – Lovro Majer’s last shot was the last shot – but neither side managed to score another goal, sending the game to penalties.
But it was a poor sight from Japan during the shootout. Only Takuma Asano scored while Livakovic saved from Minamino, Mitoma and Maya Yoshida. Marko Livaja hit the post as Croatia narrowly missed as Mario Pasalic scored the winning penalty to put his side through.
What does the result mean?
Croatia’s win now sets up a quarter-final meeting with either Brazil or South Korea on Friday; from 3 pm. The winners of the match will face either the Netherlands or Argentina in the semi-final on Tuesday 13 December; starting at 7 p.m.
Player of the match – Dominik Livakovic
Japan: Gonda (7), Taniguchi (7), Endo (7), Doan (7), Morita (6), Nagatomo (6), Ito (7), Kamada (7), Tomiyasu (7), Yoshida (7), Mada (7).
Subs used: Mitoma (7), Asano (7), Sakai 96), Minamino (6), Tanaka (n/a).
Croatia: Livakovic (8), Barisic (6), Perisic (7), Lovren (7), Kovacic (6), Kramaric (6), Modric (7), Brozovic (7), Petkovic (7), Gvardiol (7), Juranović (7).
Subs used: Budimir (7), Pasalic (7), Majer (7), Vlasic (6), Orsic (n/a), Livaja (n/a).
Player of the game: Dominik Livakovic.
The Japanese sanctions were fearsome. Expectant. But two of Livakovic’s stops almost went in. The number of expected goals after the four penalty shots was more than three. Only one beat him. This was a good stop by the Croatian goalkeeper.
In all the discussions about Croatia, the big names – Modric, Perisic and Kovacic – have already been introduced. It fell to their 27-year-old goalkeeper, playing his first World Cup knockout match, to make the difference.
Livakovic faced 54 penalties in the game before the game, while converting 74 percent against him. The average conversion rate is about 78 percent, the same as Japan’s Gonda goalkeeper. The numbers were on his side. Livakovic helped.
Opta Statistics – Japan is out of the Last-16 again
- Japan were eliminated in four of their last 16 matches at the World Cup (D2 L2), while losing both of their penalties in the tournament (also against Paraguay in 2010).
- Croatia have avoided defeat in five of their last six World Cup matches in which they scored the first goal (W2 D3 L1), with three of those matches going to penalties (as well as Denmark and Russia in 2018).
- Only Davor Suker (45) has scored more goals in all competitions for Croatia than Ivan Perisic (33 – level with Mario Mandzukic).
- Daizen Maeda scored just his second goal for Japan in his 11th appearance in all competitions, with this goal being Japan’s first shot on target in the first half of the 2022 World Cup.