Japan took on Croatia tonight at the Al Janoob Stadium, in an exciting round of 16 fixture.
Japan started the match brightly and had a good chance to take the lead with a 2nd minute header by Taniguchi, who got his head on the end of a cross by Ito following a short corner routine.
In the 7th minute, Croatia had their first dangerous opportunity of the match when Ivan Perisic pressured Tomiyasu into playing a short back pass towards his goal. The Tottenham Hotspur wingback took a strong curling effort at goal which was saved by Gonda in the Japanese goal.
Next, it was Japan’s turn to threaten and Ito was again at the heart of the action. The wingers curling right footed cross evaded both Maeda and Kamada at the far post.
Croatia then settled into a 15 minute period of dominance. Petkovic was played through on goal but chose to cut back instead of taking a strike on goal, allowing the Japanese defense to recover. Minutes later, a cross from the left wing by Barisic was met by Ivan Perisic’s header which floated towards the far post. Japanese defenders managed to scramble the ball away before any Croatian touch towards goal could be made.
In the last five minutes of the first half, Japan began to reassert their dominance on the game. A beautiful through ball at the edge of the box found Kamada through on goal. The Japanese forward decided to cut into his right foot instead of taking a first time strike, and his effort sailed wide.
Two minutes before the end of the half, Japan scored the opening goal. Another short corner routine caught the Croatian defense napping, as Ito whipped in a delightful left footed cross towards the 6 yard box, the ball was played down towards Maeda who directed it towards goal to give his country the lead heading into the break.
Japan started the second half strongly, with Kamada cutting onto his right foot and shooting a powerful long range shot slightly over the bar.
Croatia’s closest opportunity came midway through the second half when the ball bounced perfectly in front of Luka Modric, who attempted a trademark volley which he directed towards the top right corner. Gonda made a diving save to deny the 5 time Champions League winner.
The remainder of the half saw both teams play promising balls into the box, with both sides failing to directly threaten their opponents goal as the referee blew his whistle for the end of normal time.
The best opportunity in extra time came courtesy of Mitoma, who picked up the ball at the half way line and drove towards the Croatian box, cutting to his stronger right foot outside the box before taking a curling effort which was strongly saved by Livakovic. The teams played out the rest of the additional period without creating any clear cut goalscoring opportunities, sending the match to a penalty shootout.
Japan had the opportunity to shoot first, and Minamino got his side off to the worst possible start by missing the first kick. Two more Japanese players, Mitoma and Yoshida missed for Japan while Croatia scored three penalties via Vlasic, Brozovic and Pasalic to win the penalty shootout 3-1.