Livakovic breaks Japan’s hearts as Croatia win on penalties

Croatia defeated Japan on penalties in a closely fought World Cup final 16, to claim a place in the quarter-finals.

Mario Pasalic scored the winning penalty to help Croatia 3-1 on penalties in Monday’s final match of the tournament at Al Janoub Stadium in Wakrah, south of Qatar’s capital.

A goalless extra time followed on 90 minutes that ended 1-1 with goals from Japan’s Daizen Maeda and Croatia’s Ivan Perisic.

Perisic and Croatian captain Luka Modric, veteran penalty takers, were both taken off before the final whistle.

Japan’s first two penalties were saved by Croatian goalkeeper Dominik Livakovic, who is now sure to be a national hero in his own country. Both of Croatia’s first two tries were thrown into the net.

Takuma Asano scored with Japan’s third shot. Croatian Marko Livaja stepped up with a nonchalant effort, but hit the post. Japanese captain Maya Yoshida’s badly taken penalty was also saved. Pasalic took the last, successful kick to crush the Japanese dreams.

Japan was that for much of the first half happy to sit back, allowing Croatia to take most of the possession and focus instead on lightning-fast counter-attacks.

Croatia had a great period of play just before the half hour mark, with Luka Modric making pointy crosses that his teammates were unable to convert.

Players from Croatia celebrate after winning the penalty shootout as Japanese players look dejected [Lee Smith/Reuters]

Japan’s effort and effort paid off in the 42nd minute, as Celtic’s Daizen Maeda came at the end of a messy corner kick for a well-deserved goal in front of the 42,523-strong crowd.

Modric dominated the midfield as always, the Croatian captain leading an experienced and solid line, but Croatia had no attacking options to take the game to Japan’s back four – and lacked the will to score much of the time.

A brilliant Croatian cross in the 54th minute was met with a golden header; a game out of the blue, out of the blue – an experimental, penetrating delivery just fell comfortably for Ivan Perisic, whose headshot deflected inside the post for the equaliser.

The move brought life to the game. Japan’s Wataru Endo tried to answer just two minutes later, a curling attempt that had to be tipped over the crossbar by keeper Livakovic.

With 15 minutes of normal time remaining, the ball again fell to Perisic, who fired off a shot of a shot, though a deflection from Takehiro Tomiyasu sent the ball high and wide.

Extra time got off to a slow start, but Japan looked certain to score on the stroke of the halfway point, though Kaoru Mitoma’s mazy run ended with a shot straight into Livakovic’s gloves.

In the second period of extra time, Japan increased their energy level, but a breakthrough was still not found. Croatia finally had a real chance in the 30th minute of extra time, but Lovro Majer took the chance and sent it wide. And it came down to penalties.

Croatia will advance to the quarter-finals to face the winner of tonight’s game between five-time winners Brazil and South Korea in Education City on Friday.

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Merry C. Vega is a highly respected and accomplished news author. She began her career as a journalist, covering local news for a small-town newspaper. She quickly gained a reputation for her thorough reporting and ability to uncover the truth.

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