Japan and Croatia meet in the World Cup 2022 last 16 on Monday, with the winner in line to face five-time champions Brazil in the quarter-finals.
After surprisingly topping Group E ahead of Spain – and condemning Germany to an early exit – the Japanese have qualified for the knockout stages at consecutive World Cups for the first time in their history.
The Samurai Blue, who beat both the Spaniards and the Germans in the group stage, are now tasked with achieving another first: winning a knockout game at the tournament. In three previous appearances in the World Cup last 16, Japan have lost to Turkey (2002), Paraguay (2010) and Belgium (2018).
Hajime Moriyasu’s men face a Croatia side who came second in Group F, behind Morocco – another unexpected group winner.
World Cup runners-up four years ago, the Croats squeaked through ahead of Belgium, and in part have Romelu Lukaku to thank for that. The Belgian striker’s string of misses against Croatia ensured that Zlatko Dalic’s side got the matchday-three draw they needed to qualify.
Japan or Croatia will meet the winner of Monday’s second last-16 clash, between South Korea and World Cup favourites Brazil, in the last eight in Qatar.
Croatia vs Japan: match odds
Given their greater World Cup pedigree, it’s not surprising that the bookmakers are backing Croatia to beat Japan. That said, they’re not overwhelming favourites. According to Oddschecker, US betting houses are pricing a Croatia victory at +100 to +108, while the odds on a Japan win are around +285 to +300. A draw is valued at +220 to +230.
In knockout ties with extra time and penalties, the game tends to count as a draw for betting purposes if it is level after 90 minutes.
Luka Modric (second left) in Croatia training.OZAN KOSEAFP
Croatia vs Japan: prediction
In between their upset victories over Spain and Germany, Japan managed to lose to Costa Rica. So who knows what they’ll do next?
One thing that appears probable, though, is that their clash with Croatia won’t be a goal-fest. The Croats conceded just once in the group stage and were involved in two 0-0 stalemates; what’s more, it’s three and a half years since Japan last played in a game that saw both teams score more than once.
And don’t hang your hat on the tie being done and dusted inside 90 minutes, either: five of Croatia’s last six major-tournament knockout games have gone to extra time, and two of those needed penalties.
Prediction: Croatia 2-1 Japan (after extra time)