Football fans have been left heartbroken for Japan after their fairytale run at the World Cup was ended in 'awful' scenes on Monday. Japan fell at the hands of Croatia in the last 16 after a 1-1 draw in regulation time was decided on penalties.
Goalkeeper Dominik Livakovic was the hero for Croatia, saving three of Japan's penalties. Livakovic firstly dived to his left to save Takumi Minamino's weak kick, before moving to his right to keep out another poor attempt from Kaoru Mitoma.
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Nikola Vlasic and Marcelo Brozovic scored their penalties for Croatia, heaping a mountain of pressure on Takuma Asano. The Japanese player managed to keep his side's hopes alive and when Marko Livaja hit the post it was 2-1 after three kicks each.
Livakovic then went right, and chose right again, to deny veteran defender Maya Yoshida with Japan's fourth attempt. Mario Pasalic then sealed Croatia's place in the quarter-finals after converting for his side.
"It's more an instinct than an analysis of the penalty takers. I don't think that these penalties were too difficult to defend, (but) they shoot very hard," man-of-the match Livakovic said.
Croatia coach Zlatko Dalic said: "We had a fantastic goalkeeper today. He was great, he was insurmountable, he defended the penalties in a very strong, stable manner."
Croatia won two penalty shootouts during their run to the final at the last World Cup in Russia in 2018. But at the Al Janoub Stadium on Monday a new generation got to make their mark.
"We have 18 new players that weren't at the Russian World Cup. And I told them today - this is your chance to make history," Dalic added.
The Blue Samurai have now fallen at the last 16 stage for the fourth time in six finals. They had been hoping to become the first Asian team to reach the last eight since South Korea in 2002, and only the second to do so on foreign soil after North Korea in 1966.
"Every day, for four years, we worked hard to break this barrier (reaching the last eight) but we couldn't get the result we wanted," captain Yoshida said. "It's really hard to take. We have given everything throughout this tournament and had great results, coming back against Spain and Germany. I am proud of my team, proud of my teammates."
Football world shreds Japan over 'horrific' penalties
Japanese players and fans were left absolutely gutted after their elimination. Commentators couldn't help but point out the 'awful' penalty kicks that sent them packing, with one broadcaster describing them as 'horrific'.
“Terrible way to lose for the Japanese players,” Aussie great Mark Bosnich said on SBS.
“Wasn’t the best of days for Croatia but they stayed in the fight, got a goal out of nowhere. What wonderful resilience, what wonderful fight.”
Craig Foster added: "Japan folded in the big moment. It meant so much for them to make that quarter-final. Minamino’s penalty was really poor to get it started.
"Mitoma, a young player, very poor penalty. Yoshida is not quite as bad, it was heading in the corner but Livakovic made brilliant saves. The other two he didn’t need to do too much. The first penalty was absolutely shocking.”
Japan coach Hajime Moriyasu told his players the loss "does not negate everything we did". He added: "The players showed a new era of Japanese football. They showed how good they can play in such a tournament like the World Cup. I hope they keep on the same way and I think Japanese football can continue to grow."
Croatia's win was the first match of this World Cup to go to extra time. It was also the first to be decided on penalties. They will now play Brazil in the quarter-finals after a 4-1 thrashing of South Korea.
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