Japan look to claim another giant-killing as they meet Croatia in a Round of 16 clash at Al Janoub Stadium in 2022 FIFA World Cup.
Victory would see Japan qualify for the Quarter-Finals of FIFA World Cup for the first time ever, whilst Croatia seek to qualify for a third Quarter-Final at a World Cup.
The winner of this tie will meet Brazil or South Korea in the Quarter-Finals.
Ko Itakura is suspended for Japan after he collected his second booking of the tournament in a 2-1 win over Spain, meaning that Arsenal’s Takehiro Tomiyasu is set to start in his place for this game.
Takefusa Kobo (illness) is a fresh doubt as Hiroki Sakai (fitness) remains an ongoing concern, despite having re-joined training.
Croatia have no fresh injury concerns to report following their goaless draw against Belgium, but Dejan Lovren and Luka Modric would miss the Quarter-Final, should either player get booked and Croatia advance to the last eight.
- Japan are winless in two previous meetings against Croatia in the World Cup (D1, L1), having lost 1-0 in Group H at 1998 tournament then drew 0-0 in Group F at 2006 tournament.
- Croatia have lost just one of three previous meetings against Japan in all competitions (W1, D1, L1), in which they played as the away team in all three clashes.
- This is the first meeting between Japan and Croatia in all competitions to be played outside of the month of June.
- Two of Japan’s four goals at this tournament have been scored by Ritsu Doan, albeit as a substitute rather than starter.
- Croatia have failed to score in two of their three group matches, having drawn 0-0 against Morocco and Belgium either side of a 4-1 win over Canada.
Having clinched two clinical comeback wins over Germany and Spain either side of a sloppy loss to Costa Rica in Group E, Japan now need to turn their winning displays into consistency because Croatia won’t be as lax as their opposition so far have been.
In fact, I do expect Japan to keep their gameplan which worked against Spain and try to unpick Croatia on the counter, although they will need to be aware of Modric who will certainly look to win possession and turn the counter-attack on Japanese players instead.
Croatia though failed to score in two of their Group F fixtures but crucially kept clean sheets in those two games, which underlines just how technical this team is even though they did need Dominik Livakovic to be at his resilient best to deny Belgium in goal amidst some sloppy defending.
With that in mind, it is imperative that Japan bring their fast-paced intensity and try to get the first goal this time because Croatia will be tough to beat once ahead, yet Livakovic and his fellow teammates will know that Japan love to win from behind so expect a tightened defence if ahead.
A score draw therefore might well be a decent bet and if it goes to penalties, I fancy Japan to ride their luck and spring a surprise, just like Croatia did throughout the knockout stages in 2018.
Prediction: Japan 1-1 Croatia (Japan to win on penalties)