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Japan vs Croatia and more World Cup 2022 news


Japanese players celebrate after beating Spain on Thursday. (Aijaz Rahi/AP)

Few would have predicted that Japan would beat Spain and Germany to top Group E in the Round of 16 qualifier. But the squad have been so impressive that few would raise an eyebrow if the Samurai Blue progressed to the quarter-finals for the first time in their history when they faced Croatia – runners-up at the 2018 World Cup – in the round of 16. finals at Al Janoub Stadium today at 10 a.m. ET

Croatia are an unbeaten side in nine of their last 10 World Cup matches. Its only defeat in this race came in Russia four years ago when a Kylian Mbappé-inspired France claimed a 4-2 victory in the final.

Meanwhile, Japan have never made it past the round of 16, suffering defeats in 2002, 2010 and 2018.

Defender Yuto Nagatomo said the memories of the defeat to Belgium four years ago, when Japan let slip a 2-0 lead and lost to a goal in stoppage time, will motivate the players this time around.

“I never forgot that battle against Belgium. Sometimes scenes from the game suddenly come to me and the last four years have been very difficult,” the full-back told reporters on Sunday. “But I think we have grown both mentally and physically and… as far as I know, this team is the best and strongest that has ever competed for Japan at the World Cup.”

Since 1997, Japan and Croatia have met three times, with Japan winning a friendly 4-3, but losing to Croatia in the group stage at France 1998. At the 2006 World Cup in Germany, the two teams played 0-0 draw.

Croatia are a possession-based side, which might suit Japan considering they beat Germany and Spain with 17.7% and 26.1% possession respectively.

Japan “will apply the philosophy of the samurai warrior. U.S. too. If we want to go further, we have to apply the same attitude, do our best and never underestimate anyone,” said coach Zlatko Dalić. “Japan have the least ball possession in the world, but they made a great transition. It’s the most persistent “persistent opponent. They just don’t give up. We have a similar mentality, Japan and Croatia. We are on equal footing.”

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