Japan’s dream run at the 2022 FIFA World
Cup ended cruelly as the Blue Samurais were dumped out on penalties against
Croatia in the round of 16 at the Al Janoub Stadium in Qatar. Ivan Perisic’s second-half
strike cancelled out Daizen Maeda’s opener in regulation time before goalkeeper
Dominik Livakovic’s heroics in the penalty shootout won the game for the 2018
finalists. The Dinamo Zagreb shot-stopper became just the third goalkeeper to
save three penalties at a World Cup, helping the European side progress into
the quarter-finals of the 2022 FIFA World Cup.
Japan have fallen short in the last 16
stage at the World Cup on three separate occasions, but the Asian side got off
to a lively start against Croatia, with Shogo Taniguchi heading just wide from
a corner. Croatia had their fair share of chances in the opening period.
Goalkeeper Shuichi Gonda was forced to intervene after Takehiro Tomiyasu’s
misplaced back pass fell into the lap of Ivan Perisic.
However, Japan stepped up their pursuit
towards the end of the first period, with Daichi Kamada firing wide from close
range before eventually finding a deserved opener. Croatia couldn’t clear their
lines after a cross from a corner, and Daizen Maeda pounced on the indecision
to give Japan the lead.
Croatia levelled the scores shortly after
half-time, with Ivan Perisic sending a thunderous header from Dejan Lovren’s
deep cross into the back of the net to score his tenth goal at major
tournaments. Luka Modric went close with a sweetly timed volley a few minutes
later, but both goalkeepers played their part to save their sides and send the
tie to extra time and then penalties.
In the shootout, there was only one winner
from the start as Japan fluffed their lines and failed to keep their nerve
under the pressure. Dominik Livakovic saved both of Japan’s first two penalties
from Takumi Minamino and Karou Mitoma, while Marcelo Brozovic and Nikola Vlasic
calmly found the back of the net for Croatia.
Takuma Asano got Japan on the board with
their third penalty kick, while Marko Livaja hit the post to give the Asian
side a lifeline. But Maya Yoshida failed to convert the next penalty as Japan
resigned to another cruel defeat at the last 16.
With this result, Croatia head into the
quarter-finals of the 2022 FIFA World Cup, keeping the dream of emulating their
success from 2018 alive. However, the European side will face a much sterner
test in the next round as they take on five-time world champions Brazil on
Friday in Qatar.