Mario Pasalic fired Croatia into the Quarter-Finals of 2022 FIFA World Cup with 3-1 win on penalties against Japan, following a comeback 1-1 draw.
Daizen Maeda fired Japan in front two minutes from half-time as he smashed in from Maya Yoshida’s knockdown of Ritsu Doan’s curled cross.
Croatia equalised nine minutes after half-time as Ivan Perisic rocketed a powerful header into the far-right corner from Dejan Lovren’s cross, which crucially took the match to extra-time.
Neither team were able to find further goals but inspired saves from Domink Livakovic saw Croatia eventually prevail 3-1 on penalties, as Mario Pasalic scored the winning spot-kick.
Croatia will now face the winner of Brazil’s tie against South Korea in the Quarter-Finals on Friday 9 December, at Education City Stadium with kick-off confirmed for 6pm AST local time.
Just days after stunning Spain in their final Group E match, Japan enjoyed a positive start in their quest to reach a first World Cup Quarter-Final as Shogo Taniguchi headed wide from a second minute corner.
Croatia’s Livakovic then dawdled on his goal kick as Maeda pressed him down and briefly intercepted, only to put the ball behind on his initial touch.
Croatia eventually settled and Perisic seized upon their first opportunity in the eighth minute as he beat Takehiro Tomiyasiu down the left, which enabled him to cut in but Suichi Gonda was alert to make the block then saved Andrej Kramaric’s rebound strike.
The game soon began to turn into a see-saw battle as Junya Ito saw a 14th minute cross evade Maeda and Yuto Nagatomo across the box just yards from goal.
Croatia then saw various chances go begging as they enjoyed a spell of possession but Bruno Petkovic saw a 26th minute shot denied by Gonda.
Japan eventually finished the half on top and even broke on the counter-attack from a Luka Modric free-kick, only for Daichi Kamada to curl wide after he was closed down into a tight shooting position.
Croatia ultimately couldn’t handle the Japanese intensity as Josip Juranovic headed a cross behind for a corner, which was initially blocked but Doan played the second set-piece short before Yoshida knocked his curled cross down for Maeda to rifle in from close-range to put Japan ahead at the break.
A frantic restart after half-time saw Maeda and Mateo Kovacic waste chances at opposite ends but Croatia broke forward in the 55th minute against run of play, with Lovren’s cross ruthlessly headed by Perisic across into the bottom-right corner unmarked.
Wataru Endo quickly tried to put Japan back in front with a long-range shot just two minutes later, but Livakovic reacted in time to punch the ball above the top-right corner before he then denied Doan on the hour mark.
Croatia manager, Zlatko Dalic responded to the renewed Japanese pressure by substituting Petkovic for Ante Budimir, which turned the tide as Modric saw a 63rd minute shot go wide.
Budimir three minutes later nodded Andrej Kramaric’s cross wide of the bottom-right corner as Croatia began to dominate possession and dictate play, during which Perisic rifled over with 14 minutes of normal time left.
Neither team were able to find a breakthrough within the regulatory 90 minutes plus four minutes of injury-time, as Pasalic headed wide from Perisic’s 86th minute cross which resulted in the first extra-time period of this tournament.
Just like at the start of the match, Taniguchi enjoyed the first chance of extra-time as he headed wide from a corner, in which both teams largely played pedestrian football, until Kaoru Mitoma broke forward in the 105th minute but Livakovic blocked his shot.
Both teams consequently opted to freshen up for the last 15 minutes as Japan brought on Ao Tanaka for Hidemasa Morita, whilst Croatia substituted Perisic and Budimir for Mislav Orisic and Marko Livaja respectively.
Tanaka’s introduction though reignited Japan’s intensity as they largely dominated the opening minutes of the second-half of extra-time, yet resolutely defended against Croatian attacks – including a 24th minute header from Juranovic which was saved by Gonda.
Ultimately neither team were able to find further goals despite a last-gap strike from Croatia’s Lovro Majer, which meant that three of Croatia’s last five World Cup knockout matches have now gone to a penalty shootout.
Early misses from Takumi Minamino and Mitoma saw Japan fall 2-0 behind as Nikola Vlasic and Marcelo Brozovic scored Croatia’s first two spot-kicks, until Takuma Asano netted the fifth penalty to pull their deficit back to 2-1 after Marko Livaja missed the sixth penalty.
Japan’s captain, Yoshida then saw his spot kick saved by Livakovic which proved costly as Pasalic fired his spot-kick into the bottom-left corner to seal a 3-1 victory on penalties to set up a Quarter-Final against Brazil or South Korea.
Suichi Gonda, Takehiro Tomiyasu, Maya Yoshida, Shogo Taniguchi, Junya Ito, Wataru Endo, Hidemasa Morita (Tanaka 105′), Yuto Nagatomo (Mitoma 64′), Ritsu Doan (Minamino 87′), Daizen Maeda (Asano 64′), Daichi Kamada (Sakai 75′)
Substitutes: Eiji Kawashima, Miki Yamane, Gaku Shibasaki, Kaoru Mitoma, Takumi Minamino, Ao Tanaka, Takuma Asano, Hiroki Sakai, Shuto Machino, Ayase Ueda, Dnaiel Schmidt, Yuki Soma, Hiroki Ito
Croatia: Dominik Livakovic, Josip Juranovic, Dejan Lovren, Josko Gvardiol, Borna Barisic, Luka Modric (Majer 99′), Marcelo Brozovic, Mateo Kovacic (Vlasic 99′), Andrej Kramaric (Pasalic 68′), Bruno Petkovic (Budimir 62′, Livaja 106′), Ivan Perisic (Orsic 106′)
Substitutes: Martin Erlic, Lovro Majer, Ivo Grbic, Nikola Vlasic, Marko Livaja, Mario Pasalic, Ante Budimir, Mislav Orsic, Domagoj Vida, Ivica Ivusic, Josip Sutalo, Luka Sucic, Kristijan Jakic
Referee: Ismail Elfath (USA)