Monday’s World Cup action starts at Al Janoub Stadium as Japan and Croatia go head-to-head in a last-16 tie, starting at 3.00 pm.
As one of the surprise packages of the Qatar showpiece, the Samurai Blue upset the pre-tournament odds to qualify for the World Cup knockout stage twice in a row for the first time in the nation’s history.
If a come-from-behind 2-1 triumph over Germany caught many by surprise, an identical victory over Spain on day three was seemingly a pattern.
Hajime Moriyasu’s team won both group-stage fixtures they started as underdogs, yet the only time they were supposed to book three points, Costa Rica sunk them 1-0.
That didn’t stop them from finishing top of Group E, two points clear of Spain and Germany, ending Die Mannschaft’s World Cup campaign prematurely.
On the other hand, runners-up in 2018, the Croats have entered the tournament with high ambitions, but despite going unbeaten in all three group-stage games (W1, D2), they’ve been unconvincing.
Zlatko Dalic’s men opened their Qatar journey with a goalless draw with eventual Group F winners Morocco before fashioning a turnaround to beat Canada 4-1 on day two.
Croatia had Romelu Lukaku’s hat-trick of epic misses to thank for holding Belgium to a 0-0 stalemate in day three’s crunch meeting as they sent De Rode Duivels packing.
No strangers to the World Cup knockout stages, Moriyasu’s men have reached the competition’s round of 16 for the fourth time, but that’s where they tend to stumble.
Each of Japan’s last three appearances at this stage of the tournament has yielded elimination, two of which came at the hands of nations from the UEFA region.
But the Samurai Blue will put their fate in the safe hands of Moriyasu, whose phenomenal in-game management has seen all four of Japan’s goals in Qatar coming by contributions from substitutes (G3, A1).
Unlike their rivals, Croatia boast a 100% win ratio in the World Cup round of 16, having navigated both previous last-16 ties at the tournament, including a penalty shoot-out win over Denmark in Russia.
It gets better as the Blazers have only lost two of their eight World Cup knockout ties (W4, D2), with both those draws eventually resulting in the Croats’ penalty shootout triumphs.
However, Dalic’s men have already failed to score in two of their three matches in Qatar, having drawn a blank only twice in their previous 13 games at the World Cup finals.
Japan vs Croatia Head-to-Head
Croatia met Japan in their maiden World Cup appearance as an independent nation in 1998, with legendary striker Davor Suker handing them a 1-0 win.
The teams encountered again in 2006, though that time, neither side got on the scoresheet, meaning the Samurai Blue are seeking their first-ever World Cup strike against the Blazers.
Japan vs Croatia Potential Line-ups
Japan (3-4-3): Shuichi Gonda; Takehiro Tomiyasu, Maya Yoshida, Hiroki Ito; Junya Ito, Wataru Endo, Ao Tanaka, Yuto Nagatomo; Ritsu Doan, Takuma Asano, Daichi Kamada.
Croatia (4-3-3): Dominik Livakovic; Josip Juranovic, Dejan Lovren, Josko Gvardiol, Borna Sosa; Luka Modric, Marcelo Brozovic, Mateo Kovacic; Andrej Kramaric, Marko Livaja, Ivan Perisic.
Japan vs Croatia Prediction
Japan won’t mind falling behind before half-time if that leads to another comeback, as was the case against Germany and Spain.
However, that could be a dangerous game against Croatia’s rock-solid defence, which has been the team’s strong suit in Qatar.
The knockout phase is where Luka Modric’s experience and midfield brilliance should come into play, while Andrej Kramaric proved against Canada how lethal he can be on his day.
We back Dalic’s side to bring the brave Japanese back down to earth.
Japan 1-2 Croatia
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