Japan were surprise winners of Group E while Croatia finished second in Group F.It is the third meeting of the nations on the world stage.Croatia are seeking a third quarter-final, Japan their first.
Japan have already scripted one of the biggest surprises of this FIFA World Cup with their stunning come-from-behind victories over Germany and Spain in the group stage. Many pundits felt they would struggle to even finish second in their group yet they claimed top spot.
Croatia, who finished runners-up at Russia 2018, have reached the round of 16 despite not hitting top gear. Zlatko Dalic’s side opened with a 0-0 draw against Morocco and then overcame Canada 4-1. Belgium’s lack of accuracy in front of goal during their final Group F game helped them secure second place in the section.
The team from the Balkans boast an impressive track record in the knockout stages of World Cups. On the previous two occasions they progressed past the group stage, they went on to reach at least the semi-finals. Japan, for their part, are aiming to win a round of 16 tie for the first time after defeats in 2002, 2010 and 2018.
Japan defender Kou Itakura will miss this match after receiving his second yellow card of these finals in the game against Spain. The loss of this influential centre-back from a defensive unit that limited both Germany and Spain to just one goal each is an undoubted setback.
Takehiro Tomiyasu, who missed the game against Costa Rica due to a slight leg injury, and Wataru Endo, who came on as a substitute against Spain, could both return to the starting line-up. Hiroki Sakai is still recovering from injury.
Croatia’s starting XI was mostly unchanged during the group stage and with no injuries or suspensions, they are expected to stick with the players who held Belgium to a 0-0 draw.
Possible starting XIs:
Japan: Shuichi Gonda; Takehiro Tomiyasu, Maya Yoshida, Shogo Taniguchi, Yuto Nagatomo; Junya Ito, Wataru Endo, Hidemasa Morita, Takefusa Kubo, Daichi Kamada, Takuma Asano
Croatia: Dominik Livakovic; Josip Juranovic, Dejan Lovren, Josko Gvardiol, Borna Sosa, Luka Modric, Marcelo Brozovic, Mateo Kovacic, Andrej Kramaric, Ivan Perisic, Marko Livaja
Referee: Ismail Elfath; Assistant referees: Corey Parker, Kyle Atkins (all USA).
Japan and Croatia have shared the spoils in their three previous matches. Their first encounter was an international friendly in June 1997, which Japan won 4-3 with the help of two goals from Kazu Miura.
The remaining two matches were both in the group stage at World Cups. Both teams made their maiden World Cup appearances at the 1998 edition in France, and Croatia came out on top 1-0 as Davor Suker struck the winner. They went on to finish third at the tournament, while Japan bowed out at the group stage with three losses.
The second World Cup encounter was a 0-0 draw at Germany 2006. Neither team advanced to the knockout stage, as Brazil topped the group and Australia finished second.
This will be the third meeting between the nations at a World Cup. For Japan, Croatia will become the team they have faced the most at the World Cup and vice versa.
Japan have progressed three times to the knockout stage but never reached the quarter-finals. In 2002, they lost 1-0 to Turkey. They were eliminated on penalties by Paraguay in 2010. In 2018, Japan held a 2-0 lead over Belgium midway through the second half but conceded three goals, including a 94th-minute Nacer Chadli winner.
Japan are the only AFC team that Croatia have played at a World Cup. Australia were still in the Oceania Football Confederation when they faced Croatia in 2006.
Japan have an overall record of four wins, three draws and five losses against European nations at World Cups. Two of those victories came against Germany and Spain at this tournament.
— HNS (@HNS_CFF) December 4, 2022
— HNS (@HNS_CFF) December 4, 2022
Japan coach Hajime Moriyasu said , “We have advanced past the group stage, but we are staying calm and not getting too excited. We are embracing this as a new challenge, and there is a good vibe around the team. The players have experienced three matches at this World Cup, so they’ll be ready. If the game ends in a draw, we will play extra time and then possibly a penalty shoot-out. We’ll prepare well to increase our chances of winning, even if it’s by only one or two per cent.”
Croatia coach Zlatko Dalic said, “I think this will be a tough match for both teams. When Spain scored the opening goal, I thought Japan were finished, but they never gave up and deserved their victory. The fact that Germany, Belgium and Denmark have all been eliminated illustrates just how strong other teams have been at this World Cup. In the past, I might have picked Japan as an opponent that we would want to play, but they have defeated both Germany and Spain. This certainly will not be an easy game for us.”
Venue :Al Janoub Stadium