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Croatia survives and advances, getting past Japan in shootout at FIFA World Cup

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DOHA, Qatar — Luka Modric was reduced to the role of spectator, with his FIFA World Cup future on the line.

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The Croatia captain gave all he had Monday against Japan, and was substituted with 21 minutes left in extra time with the score tied 1-1. Modric had to watch from the sidelines as Croatia pulled out the victory in a shootout to move on to the quarterfinals.

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Croatia goalkeeper Dominik Livakovic made three saves while Nikola Vlasic, Marcelo Brozovic and Mario Pasalic converted from the spot to win the shootout 3-1. Takuma Asano was the lone Japanese player to score in the shootout as Takumi Minamino, Kaoru Mitoma and Maya Yoshida were all stopped.

“We had a difficult match, I would like to congratulate Japan for their brave, feisty and aggressive approach,” Croatia head coach Zlatko Dalic said. “They proved to be an exceptionally difficult opponent. We had lot of different problems when it came to their aggressiveness. We could not keep possession of the ball.

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“In the second half, we settled down and demonstrated a different style of play. I thought we showed a lot of character. I think Japan might have underestimated us. We’re a small country, but we’re diligent and we’re hard working and we fight for what we want, both the older and the younger generation of players did that tonight.”

Japan, which lost to Canada in an exhibition game in Dubai, UAE, prior to the tournament but defeated both Germany and Spain in it, had the run of play early and Daizen Maeda scored in the 43rd minute to put it ahead.

Maeda slotted in a shot from the top of the six-yard box on a ball played back across to him by Yoshida after it was swung in off a short corner kick.

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“We played well, but it came down to a penalty shootout battle that we lost,” Japan head coach Hajime Moriyasu said. “We have to accept this result. I don’t think we succumb to pressure in the shootout, I thought their goalkeeper was very good.

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“Our players played bravely for 120 minutes. They decided who was going to shoot the penalty kicks and I think the guys who did were courageous. We lost in the shootout, but it does not negate the effort the players put in. They can be confident, they showed they can play on the world stage and demonstrated how well they can play in a tournament like the World Cup.”

Croatia, which defeated Canada 4-1 in the group stage, battled back in the contest and Ivan Perisic tied the game, powering a header in past goalkeeper Shuichi Gonda in the 55th minute.

Modric came close to giving Croatia the lead seven minutes later, hammering a half volley from the top of the penalty area, which Gonda was able to tip over the crossbar.

Both teams settled into the contest and played conservative, which made a penalty shootout seem inevitable.

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“We have given everything throughout this tournament and had great results, coming back against Spain and Germany,” Yoshida said. “I’m proud of my team, proud of my teammates.

“It’s tough, but I’m really proud of what we’ve done and I’ve really enjoyed this tournament.”

Modric had emptied the tank by the 99th minute and was replaced by Lovro Majer, meaning he would not be available to participate in the penalty shootout.

“We had made a lot of changes in the game and so we had to have some different players take a kick the penalty shootout,” Dalic said. “But I think all of their fears and concerns went away with every save Livakovic made.”

Minamino was first to shoot and he was stopped by Livakovic, who guessed correctly to his left. Mitoma was up second for Japan and was stopped by Livakovic diving to his right.

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Vlasic and Brozovic both scored for Croatia to give them the early advantage. When Marko Livaja hit the goal post with Croatia’s third attempt, it opened the door slightly for Japan as Asano scored previously to cut the deficit to 2-1. Yoshida was then stopped by Livakovic diving to his left, setting up Pasalic to score the winner.

“Our goalkeeper was fantastic today,” Dalic said. “He did well in the penalty shootout, but I thought all of our players were good tonight.

“We practiced penalty shootouts yesterday in training, and he (Livakovic) was very good, he made a lot of really good saves. So, when we got into a penalty shootout, I was pretty confident in him; he had demonstrated that in training and I was certain he would do it again today.”

Croatia moves on to play Brazil, which overwhelmed South Korea later in the evening at the Stadium 974. Croatia is trying to make it back to the World Cup final where it lost to France in Russia four years ago.

Email: dvandiest@postmedia.com

On Twitter: @DerekVanDiest

Postmedia’s soccer expert Derek Van Diest is on the ground in Qatar to cover every kickoff of the 2022 FIFA World Cup.  and get access to all his coverage.

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