Match report as Daizen Maeda gave Japan the lead; Ivan Perisic's header levelled for Croatia shortly after the break; Dominik Livakovic saved three penalties as the game went to a shootout for the first time at the 2022 World Cup; Croatia to Brazil in Friday's quarter-final; kick-off 3pm
Tuesday 6 December 2022 06:25, UK
Croatia have reached the World Cup quarter-finals after beating Japan 3-1 on penalties - including three saves from Dominik Livakovic during the shootout - following a 1-1 draw over 120 minutes.
It was the first knockout game to play an additional half an hour in Qatar after a largely even 90 minutes as Japan looked to beat their third successive 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 some scrappy Croatian defending, before Ivan Perisic's (55) powerful header levelled shortly after the restart.
It was perhaps not a great surprise that the game went to extra-time - seven of Croatia's last eight knockout games at major tournaments have needed the added period, last losing to Spain in the round of 16 of Euro 2020 last summer.
Again, there was little to choose between the two sides during extra-time - Kaoru Mitoma and Lovro Majer going closest for their respective countries - and it deserved to be the lottery of penalties to separate the teams.
However, for all of their superb play throughout the tournament, three of Japan's penalties were poorly taken and easily saved by goalkeeper Livakovic. Croatia missed just one of their spot-kicks, scoring the other three to reach their third successive quarter-final stage.
After the game, Japan head coach Hajime Moriyasu revealed he did not pick the penalty takers, saying: "I asked the players to decide for themselves.
"The players tried under such immense pressure and I would like to praise their efforts. We have to accept this result, but whether we succumb to pressure, I don't think so. I think the goalkeeper was great and the players who took the penalty kicks were also courageous.
"In the end, of course we wanted to win and the result is very unfortunate, but it is what it is. It does not negate all of the effort of the players."
It was an end-to-end opening at the Al Janoub Stadium. Shogo Taniguchi nodded just wide after a short corner before Maeda charged down Livakovic in a lively Japan start. There was then a goalmouth scramble at the other end, Shuichi Gonda denying Perisic before pouncing on the loose ball.
While Croatia continued to see the better of the possession - Perisic's header midway through the half glanced away from Andrej Kramaic at the back post - it was Japan who had the better chances.
Ito delivered a wonderful low cross into the area, but neither Maeda or Yuto Nagatomo could covert. Daichi Kamada then fired wide from close range.
Just before the break, Japan took a deserved lead. A short corner was worked to Ritsu Doan, who sent a superb cross into the area. It was nodded on in the middle and with Croatia unable to clear, allowed Maeda to stick a foot through and send the ball home.
Japan gave their opponents another scare early in the second half, but a moment of quality from Perisic saw Croatia level. Dejan Lovren delivered a deep cross, with the Tottenham striker powerfully nodding home past Gonda.
Both teams continued to trade blows with the goalkeepers made to work. Wataru Endo's shot from range forced a fingertip save from Livakovic. Luka Modric then sent a thunderous volley goalwards, but a leaping Gonda kept his superb effort out.
Soon, Croatia began to exert control as their tournament experience came to the fore. Ante Budimir nodded a few efforts wide, with Perisic's left-footed effort also deflected past the post.
However, neither side were able to add another as the game headed into the first period of extra time of the 2022 World Cup.
Neither side wanted to give anything away in the first 15 minutes, but Brighton's Mitoma created a wonderful chance out of nothing. He stormed down the field, almost covering the whole pitch, but his eventual effort was seen away expertly by Livakovic.
There was more energy in the second period of extra time - Lovro Majer firing wide of the target with the final kick - but neither side were able to find another goal, sending the game to penalties.
But it was a poor showing from Japan during the shootout. Only Takuma Asano scored as Livakovic saved Minamino, Mitoma and Maya Yoshida's spot kicks. Marko Livaja hit the post in Croatia's only miss as Mario Pasalic scored the winning penalty to see his team through.
Croatia's win now sets up a quarter-final meeting with Brazil on Friday; kick-off 3pm. The winner of that fixture will face either the Netherlands or Argentina in the semi-finals on Tuesday December 13; kick-off 7pm.
Japan: Gonda (7), Taniguchi (7), Endo (7), Doan (7), Morita (6), Nagatomo (6), Ito (7), Kamada (7), Tomiyasu (7), Yoshida (7), Maeda (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), Juranovic (7).
Subs used: Budimir (7), Pasalic (7), Majer (7), Vlasic (6), Orsic (n/a), Livaja (n/a).
Player of the match: Dominik Livakovic.
Japan's penalties were nervous. Tentative. But two of those stopped by Livakovic were bound for the corner. The total post-shot expected-goal value of those four penalties was over three. Only one beat him. These were good stops by the Croatia goalkeeper.
For all the talk of Croatian experience, the biggest names - Modric, Perisic and Kovacic - had already been substituted. It fell to their 27-year-old goalkeeper, playing in his first World Cup knockout game, to make the difference.
Livakovic had faced 54 career penalties before this match, with a conversion rate of 74 per cent against him. The average conversion rate is around 78 per cent, similar to that of the Japan goalkeeper Gonda. The stats were on his side. Livakovic backed it up.
After the game, Croatia head coach Zlatko Dalic said: "We had a fantastic goalkeeper. Today he was great, he saved each of the penalties in a very strong and stable manner.
"We practised penalties in training yesterday and he made several saves. When he had the penalty shootout today I was assured, yesterday he installed this confidence and I was sure he would show that capacity today.
"We couldn't be dominant, but we have shown a strength of character. The Japanese might have underestimated us, never do that to Croatia. We are a small nation but we fight for what we want."
Japan coach Moriyasu also insisted the nation are entering a "new era" of football, having progressed from Group E against the odds.
"Although the result was not what we expected, I told them it does not negate everything we did," he said.
"We could not break through the round of 16 and we could not have a new perspective or see a new landscape, but the Japanese national team won against Germany and Spain, who have been champions in the World Cup.
"The players showed a new era of Japanese football I think and they should use this feeling of being upset and try to win it the next time.
"The players can be confident that they can play on the world stage. They showed how good they can play in such a tournament like the World Cup and I hope they keep on the same way and I think Japanese football can continue to grow."
Josko Gvardiol's agent insists the Croatian defender is happy at RB Leipzig amid recent links with Chelsea.
The 20-year-old has been one of the standout performers for his country at the World Cup in Qatar and played 120 minutes as Croatia beat Japan on penalties.
Chelsea were heavily linked with a late move for Gvardiol in the summer transfer window but no deal was done and, despite those links refusing to go away, his agent Marjan Sisic insists there is no rush to secure a move.
"Josko is very happy at Leipzig," Sisic told Sky Germany. "His development is great and, with Marco Rose as the new manager, RB is playing very good.
"Regarding a transfer in summer of 2023, we are not in a hurry and there is no agreement with any club. Of course, some top clubs already reached out, but he has a long-term contract in Leipzig."
Gvardiol has a contract with Leipzig until 2026.
In August RB Leipzig managing director Oliver Mintzlaff told Sky Germany that the player would stay this season and "most likely" the 2023-24 campaign as well.