Croatia played to a 1-1 draw before the Europeans ousted Japan 4-2 in a penalty shootout in a Round of 16 match of the World Cup.
Runners-up at Russia 2018, Croatia remains on course for their first major title, but will have to face the might of Brazil in the quarterfinals.
Here’s a look at two things that stood out in Monday’s match:
Japan pressured Croatia with speed and intense pressing in first half
It was known even before the start of the match that Japan would put pressure on Croatia’s defense with their blistering pace. The Japanese did not disappoint their supporters as they kept piling on the pressure through their swift attacks.
Japan were particularly active down the right flank as Junya Ito gave Croatia’s left-back Borna Barisic fits with his runs with the ball. Ito also managed to send in a few crosses and Maeda almost scored from one of them.
Maeda also tormented the Croatian defense with his robust presence and intense pressing. Josko Gvardiol and Dejan Lovren stayed deep to soak the pressure as the former again impressed with his performance.
Croatia, meanwhile, played its familiar 4-3-3 formation with Luka Modric pulling the strings from the midfield and Matteo Kovacic playing box-to-box. The Croatians were a lot slower in their build-ups than the Japanese, but lacked width on the right as Andrej Kramaric, more comfortable playing as the centre forward, started at right wing.
The Croatian centre-backs also played a few long balls, but their forwards could not make proper use of them. There were not enough penetrations into the penalty box by the Croatians as the Japanese defenders marshalled their defense really well.
Perisic tried to launch a few attacks through the left, but there was not enough supply of balls to striker Bruno Petkovic. Just as it seemed the first half would end goalless, Japan scored from one of the crosses from the right as the ball ricocheted to Maeda, who blasted home from close range.
Croatia tweaks formation in second half to equalize
Croatia slightly tweaked their formation in the second half and reaped the rewards soon after. They started playing with a high defensive line more often and switched to a 4-3-2-1 with Perisic shifting inside from the left flank to play along with Kramaric behind Petkovic.
Perisic’s more frequent presence in the central areas around the penalty box made Croatia a more dangerous proposition and it did not take them long to equalize as the Tottenham Hotspur player headed home from a wonderful cross by Lovren. It was a very powerful header that gave Shuichi Gonda no chance.
The intensity of Japan’s attacks lessened after that as they could not generate the same speed they had demonstrated in the first half. Still, both goalkeepers came up with good saves as Modric was among the players who saw chances denied.
Perisic then again switched to the left flank as Croatia replaced Kramaric and Petkovic with Mario Pasalic and Ante Budimir, respectively.
Japan responded by throwing in Hiroki Sakai and Takehiro Tomiyasu. They switched to a back-three as Sakai played as the right wing-back to deal with Perisic and Ito started playing as the right winger.
However, it was Croatia who continued to have more ball-possession as they slowed the tempo of the game. During extra-time, neither team took too many risks and the match veered towards a penalty shoot-out.
Livakovic saved the first two penalties to hand Croatia an early advantage and even though Marko Livaja hit the bar, the Croatian goalkeeper saved yet another shot to maintain the lead. Pasalic then scored from his shot to win the match for the Croatians.