Dominik Livakovic emerged as Croatia’s savior, making three crucial saves to help his country advance to the World Cup quarterfinals as they overcame Japan 3-1 on penalties at Al Janoub Stadium, breaking the Samurai Blue’s hearts.
After defeating Spain and Germany in the group stage, Hajime Moriyasu’s Japan team entered the game feeling confident and was hoping to add a third European opponent to their record of tournament victories.
Predictably, Croatia sought to control the ball early on in the match.
Japan, though, were the team who produced the better opportunities and were more threatening moving forward, despite their early lack of possession.
The Samurai Blue finally had more possession of the ball toward the conclusion of the opening session and scored the opening goal two minutes before halftime.
Ritsu Doan’s original cross was knocked down by Maya Yoshida in the six-yard area, and Daizen Maeda responded quickly to put the ball past Croatia goalkeeper Dominik Livakovic.
Ten minutes into the second half, Croatia scored a crucial equalizer entirely against the flow of play.
Ivan Perisic from within the box headed Dejan Lovren’s long cross into the far corner to bring Zlatko Dalic’s team back into the game.
Croatia started to get into the game after that and kept improving.
Despite the fact that both teams had better opportunities to score, they were tied after 90 minutes and extra time was necessary for the first time in the competition.