Croatia broke Japanese hearts with a 3-1 win on penalties following a 1-1 deadlock at the end of extra time in the World Cup round of 16 on Dec. 5, ending the Samurai Blue’s bid to reach the quarterfinals of the tournament for the first time.
Croatia saved penalty kicks from Takumi Minamino and Kaoru Mitoma to put Japan in a hole at the start of the shootout, with a further futile attempt by captain Maya Yoshida sinking Japan’s hopes of advancing.
Daizen Maeda put Japan into the lead in front of 42,523 people at Al Janoub Stadium near Doha with a goal in the dying minutes of the first half before a powerful Ivan Perisic header leveled the game.
The teams could not be separated after extra time but Dominik Livakovic came to Croatia’s rescue with three saves in the shootout.
World No. 24 Japan beat the No. 7-ranked Spain, as well as No. 11 Germany, but No. 12 Croatia proved a hurdle too high.
Japan’s wait for a maiden last-eight berth will go on for at least four more years, though they depart the Middle East having shown their potential for advancing further into future tournaments.
“They’ve shown our future, the new era,” said Japan head coach Hajime Moriyasu.
“We beat Germany, we beat Spain … we have that confidence. We’re not catching up anymore, we’re trying to race ahead. The future looks bright.” (Kyodo)