Al Wakrah: Dominik Livakovic emerged a hero by pulling off three good saves as Croatia stormed into the quarterfinals of the World Cup by beating Japan 3-1 in the penalties following a 1-1 draw over 120 minutes here on Monday.
This was the first knockout game to extend to an extra half an hour after it ended level as Japan looked to claim their third successive victory against European rivals following shock wins against Germany and Spain in the group stages.
With exception of Croatia’s Lovro Majer and Japan’s Kaoru Mitoma, having near chances, the extended half hour’s play was scrappy, weary and error-prone.
Livakovic became the third goalkeeper to make three saves in a single World Cup penalty shootout after Portugal’s Ricardo in 2006 against England and Croatia’s Danijel Subasic versus Denmark in 2018.
It was not a surprise as Croatia have the pedigree in these situations as they have won twice before in the shootouts in 2018. Also, they had avoided defeat in five of their last six World Cup matches in which they had conceded the first goal, with three of these games going to a penalty shootout (also vs Denmark and Russia in 2018).
For Japan, this defeat must disappoint them as they failed to not reach the last eight after taking a hopeless set of penalties, especially afterhanding out stunning defeats to Germany and Spain in the group stages, and giving a hard time to 2018 runners-up Croatia all the way in this match.
This is the fourth time out of four last-16 games that Japan have failed to reach the quarterfinals.
Japan were ahead going into the break after Daizen Maeda’s close-range opener in the 44th minute, but Ivan Perisic’s stunning header levelled things up to spark Croatia into life.
Perisic established himself as a Croatia legend by taking the country’s record for goals in major tournaments from former striker Davor Suker. It was his 10th goal for Croatia at World Cups and European Championships, while he already held the record for most assists.
In the first half, Japan looked lively as usual, and caused Croatia problems with their Samurai spirited pace, whereas Croatia looked leggy, but were the better side in the second half as Japan’s energy faded.
In the first half, Perisic had one good chance after Takehiro Tomiyasu’s error, but otherwise Japan were untroubled.
Just before their goal, Daichi Kamada had a great chance to open the scoring although fired off-target. It didn’t matter though as just minutes later Maeda pounced in the area to put Japan ahead. And no surprise it came off the inswinging cross from Ritsu Doan who has been excellent all game.
Although Croatia enjoyed more of the possession, their passing was lazy and too slow for Japan to be pinned back. They were leaving themselves very open for a counter-attack, which was exactly what Japan wanted.