In the World Cup of Surprises, Japan played a leading role in surprising results.
The Samurai Blue were not tipped to top Group E with wins over Spain and Germany to qualify for the knockouts, but the team has been so impressive that it is now unlikely that many will be concerned if Japan are to reach the quarter-finals. for the first time in history.
Japan will play 2018 finalists Croatia in the last 16 game on Monday at 10 a.m. ET at Al-Janub Stadium in the first of the last 16 games that day, followed by tournament favorites Brazil and South Korea.
Al Wakrah for the first match. Croatia are unbeaten in nine of their last 10 World Cup matches. Their only defeat at the tournament came four years ago in Russia, as a Kylian Mbappe-inspired France won 4-2 in the final.
Coach Zlatko Dalic told reporters on Sunday that the country has become a force in world football after years of excellent performances.
“Croatia has a population of four million and the results we have achieved on the world stage are amazing,” Dalic told Reuters.
“We always participate in tournaments and world championships and this is a great success. We have become a world football force.”
Croatia, unbeaten in Qatar, have never lost in the last 16 in their previous two World Cup appearances at this stage, while Japan have never made it past the last 16, losing in 2002, 2010 and 2018.
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Defender Yuto Nagatomo said the loss to Belgium four years ago, when Japan won 2-0 and lost to a stoppage goal, will drive the players this time.
“I will never forget the match against Belgium. Sometimes scenes of the match suddenly come back to me and the last four years have been very difficult,” the full-back told reporters on Sunday.
“But I think we’ve grown both mentally and physically, and… as far as I can see, this team is the best and strongest team that has ever competed for Japan in the World Cup.”
Can previous meetings between these two countries give us an idea of what could happen on Monday? Maybe not. They have played each other three times since 1997, with Japan winning 4-3 in a friendly, but losing to Croatia in the group stage in France 1998. In the 2006 World Cup held in Germany, the two teams drew 0:0. .
According to sports information company Gracenote, Croatia has a 58% chance of winning this match, while Japan has a 42% chance.
But Croatia are a possession-based team that could match Japan if they beat Germany and Spain with 17.7% and 26.1% possession respectively.
Dalic added: “They use the philosophy of the samurai warrior. So will we. If we want to go further, we have to use the same attitude, do our best and never let anyone down.
“Japan have the smallest team in the world, but they did well. This is the most persistent and persistent opponent. They just don’t give up. We have the same mentality as Japan and Croatia. We are in the same place.”
On paper, it’s easy to predict another day’s knockout clash as five-time champions Brazil take on South Korea at the 974 Stadium in Doha.
Despite losing 1-0 to Cameroon in their last group match, Brazil are still favorites to reach the quarter-finals, with either Japan or Croatia awaiting them.
With progress secured, manager Tite made nine changes to the team that beat Switzerland 1-0, which could explain the country’s first defeat to an African nation at the World Cup. That shouldn’t take anything away from Cameroon’s performance.
A stunning 2-1 comeback win over Portugal saw Hwang Hee-chan score the extra-time winner to send South Korea through to the last 16. Prior to this match, the Taegeuk Warriors had won just one of their 11 previous World Cup matches. .
A win for South Korea this time around would be monumental, especially since star striker Neymar looks set to play after recovering from an ankle injury.
But the tournament favorites have suffered a string of injuries to key players in Qatar, with Alex Telles picking up a knee injury against Cameroon and missing out on Brazil. Telles and striker Gabriel Jesus were ruled out for the rest of the tournament by Brazil’s football federation on Saturday, while regular defenders Danilo and Alex Sandro are uncertain when they will recover from injuries.
The two countries have never faced each other at the World Cup, but have met seven times – Brazil won six times in 1999 and South Korea once. Their most recent match was in Seoul in June, where Brazil won 5-1.
But as the only country from Asia to reach the semi-finals of the World Cup, South Korea has pedigree – as does Tottenham star Son Heung-min, its talisman and one of the Premier League’s best players.
South Korea’s Portuguese coach Paulo Bento told reporters on Sunday: “We are up against world-class players, we are not intimidated. We have world class players in our team.
“One match, it’s not a whole tournament, we have one chance… The most important thing is to show that we are a team that wants to win, compete and fight until the final whistle.”
Japan vs. Croatia: 10 a.m. ET at Al-Janoub Stadium
Brazil vs. South Korea: 2 p.m. ET Stadium 974, Doha
USA: Fox Sports
UK: BBC or ITV
Germany: ARD, ZDF, Deutsche Telekom
Canada: Bell Media
South Africa: SABC