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Croatia advances in quarterfinal as Japan crumbles in shootout

AL WAKRAH, Qatar — Goalkeeper Dominik Livakovic saved three spot-kicks as Croatia beat Japan 3-1 in a penalty shootout to reach the World Cup quarterfinals for the third time after an enthralling 120-minute contest finished deadlocked at 1-1 on Monday.

Takumi Minamino, Kaoru Mitoma and Maya Yoshida were all denied by Livakovic before Mario Pasalic coolly sent Japan keeper Shuichi Gonda the wrong way to set up a last-eight date for the Croatians with Brazil or South Korea on Friday.

Three times in the knockout rounds in Russia four years ago Croatia came from behind to advance after extra time before losing to France in the final.

They once again showed their resilience and patience by coming from a goal down to tame a lively Japan team who had beaten Germany and Spain in the group stage.

Daizen Maeda opened the scoring for Japan in the 43rd minute and Ivan Perisic headed the equalizer 10 minutes after the break but the teams could not be separated over the remainder of the game.

For Japan, this was the fourth time they suffered heartache in the last-16 after losing to Turkey in 2002, exiting on penalties against Paraguay in 2010 and giving up a 2-0 lead to lose to a stoppage-time goal against Belgium four years ago.

After all their hard work in topping a difficult group and matching the Croatians for 120 minutes, Japan crumbled in the shootout with only Takuma Asano converting his penalty.

Nikola Vlasic and Marcelo Brozovic put Croatia 2-0 ahead and even though Marko Livaja hit the post with his spot-kick, Pasalic was able to seal the deal with the fourth penalty.

CROATIAN PHYSICALITYThe game was more open than anyone had reason to expect, with Croatia ratcheting up the physicality to gradually take control of midfield and Japan trying to hit them on the break.

Perisic was put through on goal in the eighth minute but Gonda pushed away his shot and Bruno Petkovic also had a one-on-one, only to tap an attempted pass tamely through the Japanese goalkeeper’s legs.

Japan showed far more adventure than they had in the first half of their group matches and Shogo Taniguchi, Daichi Kamada and Maeda all had chances to open the scoring before the latter broke the deadlock in the 43rd minute.

Doan took the ball from a short corner and curled it into the box where Bruno Petkovic deflected it back across the six-yard area under close attention from Yoshida and Maeda pounced to tuck it into the net.

The equalizer came 12 minutes later with a cross from the same flank, Dejan Lovren lofting a beauty into the box and Perisic getting in front of his marker to head the ball powerfully into the bottom right corner of Gonda’s goal.

That brought Japan out of their shells and Wataru Endo was soon firing in a long-range effort which Livakovic tipped over the bar.

Luka Modric had a sweetly struck shot from range turned over by Gonda in the 63rd minute and substitute Ante Budimir steered header wide of the post.

Gonda again had to be at his best to keep out a rocket of a shot from Perisic in the 77th minute, while at the other end Japan continued their raids but without carving out any clear-cut chances.

Extra time was more ragged although a thrilling run and piledriver of a shot from Japan substitute Kaoru Mitoma brought a fine save out of Livakovic just before the break.

BRAZIL SMASHES KOREA 4-1An irrepressible, irresistible Brazil lit up the night sky on Monday with one of the performances of the World Cup to shred South Korea 4-1 and set up a quarterfinal clash with Croatia.

The Brazilians brought a beach soccer swagger to the iconic Stadium 974 with a display that simply overwhelmed the Koreans, and likely struck fear into potential opponents.

“We’re dreaming of the title, of course,” Brazilian talisman Neymar said. “Today was the fourth game, there are three left. We’re very focused on getting that title.”

Having failed to score in the first half of any match so far this tournament, five-times champions Brazil corrected that with four goals before the break, to end the match as any meaningful contest early on.

They took only seven minutes to breach the Korean defense for the first time.

Raphinha sliced through the red wall — leaving several of its bricks flailing on the ground — and, when his cross eluded the closely-marked Neymar, Vinicius Jr was at the far post to gently lift the ball over scrambling defenders and the desperately reaching goalkeeper.

If the Koreans were winded by that early blow, worse was to come. Five minutes later Richarlison was hauled down in the penalty box and the referee instantly pointed to the spot.

Up stepped Neymar for a game of cat-and-mouse with Kim Seung-gyu. The Korean stood to the far right of his goal. Neymar waited, smiling. Finally, he trotted towards the ball in his faltering run-up and left the wrong-footed keeper sitting in the middle of his goal as he stroked the ball home for his 76th Brazil goal — one shy of the great Pele’s international haul.

That Brazil went in only 4-0 up was as much to do with their profligacy as anything the Koreans could muster in terms of defense.

With their elaborate goal celebrations, the Brazilians had done more dancing than defending in the opening 45 minutes and the second half followed a similar pattern, with goalkeeper Kim single-handedly denying Brazil another hatful of goals. — Reuters

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