The Blue Samurai put in two warrior performances against Spain and Germany in the group stage, winning 2-1 on both occasions. Japan go into the round of 16 against Croatia with a lot of confidence. But they will have to beware of a strong Croatian team and hope that they do not repeat their performance in their previous group stage loss to Costa Rica (0-1).
Croatia qualified with 5 points in group F, after drawing against Belgium (0-0), winning against Canada (4-1), and drawing against Morocco (0-0). However, they have shown enough to be considered a dangerous opponent with the experience to go far in the World Cup competition. Indeed, they are considered tight favourites for this match.
Japan vs Croatia: Japan have wind in their sails, but Croatia have experience
Japan will have the advantage of the momentum of two fantastic group stage wins over very tough teams. They know that, mentally, they are capable of defeating teams considered better on paper.
However, Croatia look to be one of the most stable teams at the World Cup so far – their record at this stage of the competition in 2018 is something they can build on, their experience in midfield is unrivalled – with the obvious passing skills of Luka Modric.
Clash Japan vs Croatia
Japan and Croatia have played each other three times in the past, twice in the World Cup. The two teams drew in the 2006 World Cup (0-0). Croatia won the previous meeting (0-1) at the 1998 World Cup while Japan won a friendly between the two nations a year earlier in 1997 (4-3). However, the Croatians are 48% favourites to win the game, with a draw also likely at 29% – an outright win for Japan is predicted at 23%.
Japan vs Croatia: Will Japan’s influential substitutes make a difference from the start?
Japan face a line-up dilemma. Is it better to rely once more on the timing of substitutions during the game, or risk losing momentum against a Croatian team which does not expect too many substitutions? Croatia seem to be settled in a 4-3-3 line-up and there shouldn’t be too many changes in the squad. Meanwhile, Japan look set to continue with what appears to be a 3-4-3 in attack but is really a five-man defence in some phases of the game.
Keys to the game: Japan’s reactive tactics: Will it pay off?
Against Spain, Japan could close down the centre of the pitch and take advantage of mistakes made by the Spanish midfield, particularly Sergio Busquets. But while they were more passive in the first half, manager Hajime Moriyasu had the option of making substitutions in the second half, in a similar pattern to the win in Germany. In fact, it was a deliberate ploy to create movement with these substitutions in order to destabilise a Spanish team that, for 75 seconds, was heading for total elimination from the tournament.
Croatia will be a different test compared to Spain and Germany, as a more solid and arguably more experienced approach will mean that in the open spaces left by Spain’s expansive style and Germany’s high forward play – Japan will find it harder to win. Croatia are also a threat in attack, and can be lethal with very few chances.
Other predictions to consider in this Japan vs Croatia
Although we expect Japan to qualify for the next stage of the tournament, the match will be very tight between the two teams. Therefore, a draw could be very likely (even if one of the teams wins on penalty shoot-out). Andrej Kramaric is a player in form for Croatia, having scored two goals against Canada in the group stage. If you feel confident, then an underdog bet could be an interesting prospect – a Draw No Bet minimises the risk in the event of a draw (you get your money back in this case).