By Rashmi Goel

In a 3-1 shootout victory over Japan on Monday, Croatia goalkeeper Dominic Livakovic saved penalties from Takumi Minamino, Kaoru Mitoma, and Maya Yoshida before Mario Pasalic netted the winning spot-kick. On penalties, Croatia defeated Japan 3-1 after a 1-1 draw in 120 minutes of round 16 play. After a slow start, the 2018 finalists were able to recover from a poor start to gain an advantage late in the match. In spite of the fact that Japan played some phenomenal football, they are leaving the tournament with their heads held high. It was admirable to see the Japanese start with such a high level of determination and tempo. During the early stages of the game, Ritsu Doan caused panic in the Croatian defense with a cross. Taniguchi headed wide a very presentable ball over the top. Daizen Maeda's pursuit of goalkeeper Dominik Livakovic to block a clearance exemplified the Blue Samurai's approach. The Japanese were playing for victory.

Even though there were moments of quality, Croatia could not match their effort. In the event that Ivan Perisic was able to take advantage of a sleeping Tomohiro Tomiyasu, his shot was saved by Shuichi Gonda. As he nodded Borna Barisic's cross into the path of Andrej Kramaric, who failed to direct his shot appropriately, the Spurs man was involved again. In terms of cross-field chances, Junya Ito and Yuto Nagatomo both produced good performances. A slick five-pass move was almost finished by Daichi Kamada, however, he missed the target. The Croatian defense was repeatedly battered by Japan. Immediately before halftime, a cross triggered a moment of penalty-box pinball. This unruly action was completed by Maeda, who slotted home the loose ball to give his team a well-deserved lead. After creating numerous opportunities in the first half, the Blue Samurai took the lead in the second half.

In the second half, Croatia failed to improve upon its performance in the first. Japan continued to play with greater impetus and ambition. Therefore, it was all the more surprising when Dejan Lovren's cross was powered home by a Perisic header. A goal out of nothing, demonstrating the talent of this Croatian team. Despite not having performed consistently, they are still capable of turning it on when necessary. With his goal, Perisic surpassed Davor Suker as Croatia's top major tournament goalscorer with ten. There was an immediate response from Japan. In the second half, Endo curled a long-range effort toward Livakovic's goal, but the shot was blocked. Nevertheless, Croatia was able to return to the game. Gonda well saved Luka Modric's fine, swerving volley. Another great opportunity was presented by substitute Ante Budimir, but his back-post header was not successful.

During the overtime period, Modric was substituted with some surprised looks. One cannot help but wonder whether this would be the great man's last appearance at an international tournament at the age of 37. In a stunning individual effort, Kaoru Mitoma almost settled the tie. Taking a lay-off from Takumi Minamino, the Brighton & Hove Albion player covered almost the entire pitch before Livakovic denied him. In spite of a cagey opening quarter of an hour of extra time, the crowd was on its feet for this opportunity. The second half of extra time was marked by heavy Croatian pressure on Japan. Despite a few dangerous crosses, Gonda did not manage to carve out any clear-cut openings for the Kockasti. The best moment of the match came seconds before the final whistle when Lovro Majer's shot went wide. In the end, a penalty shootout would settle this game. The toss was won by Japan, who chose to kick first in front of its own fans. He was placed too close to Livakovic by Minamino. As well as saving spot kicks from Mitoma and Mayo Yoshida, the Croatian goalkeeper did well to send his team through to the quarter-finals. The Japanese played with heart and quality. In the end, Croatia's extra time and penalties proved to be the difference.

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