DOHA: Ninety minutes and 2018 FIFA World Cup finalists Croatia are all that stand between Japan and making history.
And after successfully navigating a group that contained four-time world champions Germany and 2010 winners Spain, the Samurai Blue are not lacking in confidence.
Speaking after a training session on Saturday (Dec 3), several Japanese players said they were looking forward to the round of 16 clash, which will take place in two days time.
“It’s a big chance for us, big opportunity for us to make … history. We’ve got a lot of confidence after the last three games, but we’ll try to stay modest to play this game against Croatia,” said goalkeeper Eiji Kawashima.
“I am happy to go through (from) the group stage but our objective is to play (in the) quarterfinals … We’ll do what we have to do on the pitch,” added Arsenal fullback Takehiro Tomiyasu.
Head coach Hajime Moriyasu had previously said that the goal for Japan was to get beyond the last 16, something they have never done.
“It (the mood) is so positive and we’re looking forward (to) the knockout stage. Croatia also is another tough opponent so we’ll try our best to be prepared and go for it,” said goalkeeper Daniel Schmidt.
Japan are more than aware of the quality their opponents possess.
Despite finishing second in Group H, Croatia have not lost a game this tournament and conceded just the one goal.
“They have got a lot of quality in the middle, especially the three midfielders (Luka Modric, Mateo Kovacic and Marcelo Brozovic),” said Tomiyasu.
“So of course it won’t be an easy game but we’ve got enough quality to beat them and the most important thing is to be ourselves.”
And just as they had stressed after shocking Germany in their first group match, Samurai Blue players said that they have moved on from their victory over Spain days ago.
“Japan always does not go to the last eight (at the World Cup). So the next game is … important for us so that’s why we need to prepare and focus on the next game,” said match-winner Ao Tanaka.
“Everyone (has) forgotten everything (from the last game).”
CHANGED THE FOCUS
Moriyasu’s men will have to do without suspended centerback Kou Itakura, who picked up his second yellow card in tournament in that game against Spain.
“After the game, I was sad that I couldn’t play. But I trust my teammates, and I believe (in) them,” he told CNA.
“We won against Germany and Spain so that’s why we feel very good … But we’ve already changed the focus to the next game.”
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.
Once again, the quarterfinals had eluded them.
Experienced shot stopper Kawashima was one of the players in the starting eleven that day.
“A few players we had ... the experience in 2018, but it was (a) really sad story … I think the other young players, they watched the game on TV and it remains in their mind, so I don’t need to speak about (it),” he said.
The 39-year-old added that this current side has a “good mix” of young and experienced players and can make the quarter-finals.
“We’ve got confidence and (it is) also important that most of the players - they have got more experience than before. Now it’s (the) standard that players play in Europe, and play in a big club and big competitions,” he explained.
“It’s a big challenge for us but I believe we can achieve it,” added Tomiyasu.
Catch free highlights and moments from the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 at mewatch.sg/fifaworldcup.