Croatia made it to the World Cup quarterfinals after winning the penalty shootout against Japan on Monday, following an intense 1-1 draw in regulation time.
Daizen Maeda was the one to give Japan an early lead in the Al Janoub Stadium just before half-time, when he scored after a free-kick that was sunk deep into the penalty box of the opposition. Croatia came back with an incredible strike by Ivan Perisic on 55 minutes to create a tension-filled final 45 minutes, although neither team was able to find an equaliser within 90 minutes or even in extra-time.
Croatia goalkeeper Dominic Kivakovic saved penalties from Takumi Minamino, Kaoru Mitoma and Maya Yoshida before Mario Pasalic scored to claim the 3-1 victory on penalties. The team will move on into the quarterfinals and will be playing one of Brazil or South Korea, who play later on Monday.
For Japan the last-16 was suffering to be had for the 4th time in a row following losing against Turkey in 2002. They were eliminated in penalties in the match against Paraguay in 2010. In 2010, Japan gave the hosts a 2-0 lead only in the final minute to concede a stoppage time strike against Belgium four years ago.
It was far more fluid than anyone could anticipate The game was more open than anyone could have expected, with Croatia increasing their intensity to slowly take control of midfield while Japan trying to score during the break.
Perisic was pushed through within the eight minute, but Gonda blocked his attempt and Bruno Petkovic also had a one-on-one match, only to smack the ball tamely into the Japanese goalkeeper’s legs.
Japan had a greater sense of adventure than they did in the opening portion of their group games as well. Shogo Taniguchi Daichi Kamada, and Maeda all had their chances to score, but Maeda ended the tie in the 43rd minute.
Ritsu Doan picked up his ball out of a narrow corner before curling his ball into the penalty box. Bruno Petkovic deflected it back to the six-yard line at the close of Yoshida and Maeda was quick to get it inside the net.
The equaliser was scored 12 minutes later, thanks to an identical cross from the area, Dejan Lovren lofting a beautiful ball into the box, with Perisic advancing ahead of his goalkeeper to kick the ball with a powerful kick into the lower right corner that Gonda’s goal.
The incident was enough to bring Japan from their shells, and Wataru Endo began firing in a long-range attack that Livakovic was able to tip across the barre.
Extra time was less sloppy, but an exciting running and piledriver shot by Japan substitution Kaoru Mitoma resulted in a superb stop from Livakovic prior to the end of.
Japan held their nerve throughout the game but fell short in the penalty shootout. Nikola Vlasic and Marcelo Brozovic made Croatia in front 2-1, before Pasalic secured the win for Croatia.