Croatia savoured their hero Dominik Livakovic as the goalkeeper made an incredible three saves from the spot in their penalty shootout victory over Japan to reach the World Cup quarter-finals. The stopper was in inspired form, saving three of the four spot-kicks he faced as Croatia secured a 3-1 win on penalties to make it into the last eight for the second successive tournament.
The two sides could not be separated after an enthralling 90 minutes of action with Daizen Maeda putting the Asian side ahead in the first half at the Al Janoub Stadium. Tottenham winger Ivan Perisic levelled the score 10 minutes after the interval with a fine header from 15 yards out.
Japan looked more likely to win it with the extra 30 minutes but could not find a breakthrough. And they would live to regret their missed opportunities as penalties were played out for the first time at the World Cup in Qatar.
It was former Liverpool attacker Takumi Minamino who stepped up to the plate first, only for the Monaco forward to see his weak effort kept out by Livakovic. The goalkeeper then produced another stop to deny Brighton youngster Kaoru Mitoma to leave Japan’s hopes hanging by a thread.
Croatia had successfully dispatched both of their penalties with Nikola Vlasic and Marcelo Brozovic expertly finding the back of the net to hand Zlatko Dalic’s side a healthy advantage.
Substitute Takuma Asano managed to beat Livakovic with a well-struck penalty, before a casual Marko Livaja hit the post to give the Samurai Blue a glimmer of hope.
But it was another former Premier League star, Maya Yoshida, who fluffed his lines from the spot, giving Croatia the chance to book their spot in the quarter-finals.
And ex-Chelsea man Mario Pasalic made no mistake with the fourth penalty, sending Shuichi Gonda the wrong way as Japan rued their missed spot-kicks in the shootout which will no doubt make Livakovic a hero back home in Croatia.
The save from the Dinamo Zagreb goalkeeper sparked wild celebrations from the Croatia bench as the 2018 finalists euphorically savoured their victory and passage into the last eight.
Perisic went over to check on some of the Japan players as they struggled to contain their emotions after their heartbreaking World Cup exit.
Hajime Moriyasu’s side had emerged as dark horses to win the tournament after producing stunning performances to knock Germany out of the group stage by beating Spain 2-1 in the final group decider.
But their journey comes to a premature end after their narrow loss at the hands of Croatia, who can now look forward to a mouthwatering clash against Brazil or South Korea later this week in the next round.