Goalkeeper Dominik Livakovic saved three of Japan’s four penalty kicks as substitute Mario Pasalic scored Croatia’s third PK on their fourth attempt to seal the win.
Takuma Asano was the only player to score a free kick for Japan. Takumi Minamino’s weak effort to the right was easily saved by a diving Livakovic and then the goalie saved Kaoru Mitoma and Maya Yoshida’s kicks to the left.
The teams were tied 1-1 after regulation and neither scored in the 30 minutes of extra time.
Japan opened the scoring in the 43rd minute on a goal by Daizen Maeda. Croatia responded 10 minutes after halftime after Ivan Perisic came through again. The stalwart winger scored in the 55th minute to tie the game.
There weren’t all that many scoring opportunities in the tight contest. The teams combined for 30 shots but just eight were on target. Croatia controlled much of the possession but it seemed that both teams were content to not take attacking risks in extra time.
Croatia advanced to the 2018 World Cup final and getting back there again will be a tougher task after knocking out Japan. It will likely face Brazil in the quarterfinals and the winner of the Netherlands and Argentina will be waiting in the semifinals.
It’s hard to count this Croatia team out. With veterans like Perisic, the world-class Luka Modric and Mateo Kovacic able to control play, Croatia has given up just two goals in four World Cup games.
Croatia is also on an impressive run of post-regular time wins in the World Cup. After winning all three of their knockout-round games at the 2018 World Cup in either penalties or extra time, Croatia made it four consecutive victories with the win over Japan.
The defeat also means Japan has never advanced to a World Cup quarterfinal. Japan has qualified for the past seven World Cups and advanced past the group stage in four of them. But all four of those games have ended with Round of 16 defeats. Japan lost 3-2 to Belgium in 2018 and 5-3 on penalties to Paraguay after a scoreless tie in 2010.