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Japan eliminated from World Cup after penalty shootout defeat to Croatia

Japan have been eliminated in the FIFA World Cup round of 16 for the fourth time, after they lost 3-1 on penalties to Croatia.

Japan eliminated from World Cup after penalty shootout defeat to Croatia

Fans of Japan react after Croatia defeated Japan during the World Cup round of 16 match at the Al Janoub Stadium in Al Wakrah, Qatar on Dec 5, 2022. (Photo: AP/Francisco Seco)

AL WAKRAH, Qatar: The impregnable wall still stands.

The wall of the round of 16, as it is known in Japan.

Three times the Samurai Blue have progressed from the group stages at the World Cup, and all three times ended in defeat. Each time more painful than the other.

At the last World Cup, Japan went 2-0 up against Belgium, only to concede three goals - the last of which was in stoppage time.

Fast forward four years, and there would be more agony for Hajime Moriyasu’s men as they fell to wily campaigners Croatia at the Al Janoub Stadium on Monday (Dec 5) after losing 3-1 on penalties.

The irrepressible Daizen Maeda put the Samurai Blue ahead before Ivan Perisic dragged the 2018 tournament runners-up level.

But a shootout defeat would sink Japanese hopes and book Croatia’s place in the quarter-finals where they will face either Brazil or South Korea.


A side that needs little possession to make a big impact, Japan set up as they had against Germany and Spain, letting their opponents have the ball before hitting them on the counter-attack.

Takehiro Tomiyasu would come in for the suspended Kou Itakura, while the lively Ritsu Doan would start instead of Takefusa Kubo. 

Wataru Endo also made the starting eleven replacing match-winner Ao Tanaka.

With just two minutes on the clock, Japan were inches away from a dream start as Shogo Taniguichi’s header off a set-piece dropped wide.

As Croatia began to flex their midfield muscle, Tomiyasu would almost hand them an opportunity on a plate.

Shrugged off the ball by Perisic on the edge of the area, the fullback appealed in vain, as Croatian motored into the penalty box. But Shuichi Gonda made himself look large, and Japan survived.

While the Samurai Blue threatened with their pace on the wings, they are a side with weaknesses of their own. A number of clever passes played over the top threatened to unravel Moriyasu’s men, but they hung on.

As the game threatened to go flat, Japan sprung to life in the 40th minute.

A brilliant move started by Junya Ito surging down the pitch ended with Daichi Kamada in the penalty box. The midfielder chopped inside his marker, only to somehow shank the ball for a throw-in.

On the stroke of half-time, Japan got their goal. Another creatively worked corner-kick saw the ball swung into the box, before Celtic man Maeda bundled home off a Maya Yoshida touch.

Japan trotted off the pitch in uncharted territory, having never gone into the break at this World Cup 1-0 ahead.

While Croatia have kept it tight at the back during the tournament, they are more than capable of turning things around. 

This was after all a side that smashed Canada 4-1 after an early Alphonso Davies header.

True to form, they would get an equaliser in the 55th minute. A perfectly placed Ivan Perisic header evaded Gonda, and rippled the net.


Both sides would spurn chances to take the win, as the game extended into extra-time, the first match of the round to do so.

Substitute Kaoru Mitoma had often been the spark plug for Japan off the bench, and would almost turn game-winner as his vicious effort was palmed away by Dominik Livakovic.

Then came penalties where Takumi Minamino’s and Mitoma's efforts were saved.

But Japan were handed a lifeline as Marko Livaja hit the post.

After a poor spot kick from Yoshida was saved, a Mario Pasalic winner would seal it for Croatia.

As Croatia celebrated the winning spot-kick, the Japanese players stood on the lush turf, stunned.

After handing Spain and Germany a couple of harsh footballing lessons, the time had come for Japan to face one themselves.

That a game so undoubtedly beautiful can also be immeasurably painful.

Catch free highlights and moments from the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 at
Source: CNA/mt(zl)


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