Goalkeeper Dominik Livakovic made three saves in the shootout as Croatia overcame Japan in Qatar
Croatia celebrated their shootout win in Qatar. © Julian Finney / Getty Images
Japan’s hopes of reaching a first-ever World Cup quarterfinal are over after Croatia prevailed on penalties in their last-16 meeting, setting up a date with either Brazil or South Korea in the next round in Qatar.
After the score ended 1-1 following extra time of an engaging contest at Al Janoub Stadium, it was Croatia who kept their cool from the spot.
Goalkeeper Dominik Livakovic made three saves from tame Japanese efforts, before Mario Pasalic slotted the winning penalty for Croatia to claim the shootout 3-1.
Zlatko Dalic’s team will next face the winners of the last-16 encounter between Brazil and South Korea in the quarterfinal on Friday.
Japan had been among the sensations of the tournament so far in Qatar, topping Group E after stunning comeback victories against former World Cup winners Germany and Spain.
They played their part in an engrossing contest with 2018 World Cup finalists Croatia, opening the scoring in the 43rd minute of the match through Daizen Maeda.
Croatia hit back in the second half through a brilliantly placed header from stalwart Ivan Perisic.
The game lost some of its verve as extra time played out, before Croatia proved again that they will back themselves in a shootout – just as they did twice during the knockout stages on their run to the final in Russia four years ago.
Goalkeeper Livakovic saved a tame opening effort from Monaco’s Takumi Minamino, setting the tone for the shootout for Japan.
Former CSKA Moscow playmaker Nikola Vlasic fired in the first spot kick for Croatia, before Livakovic guessed the right way to save again from Kaoru Mitoma.
Marcelo Brozovic tucked his shot down the middle, before Takuma Asano kept Japan’s hopes alive by scoring his effort.
Marko Livaja hit the post with a casual effort for Croatia, but Japanese captain Maya Yoshida then saw his shot saved by the inspired Livakovic.
Pasalic, a former loanee at Spartak Moscow, struck the winning penalty as Croatia celebrated their progress wildly by mobbing Livakovic, while Japanese players looked on in despair.