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【Match Report】SAMURAI BLUE eliminated at the Round of 16 after losing to Croatia in penalties

06 December 2022

【Match Report】SAMURAI BLUE eliminated at the Round of 16 after losing to Croatia in penalties

After losing a penalty shootout against the Croatia National Team in the round of 16, the SAMURAI BLUE (Japan National Team) were eliminated from the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022™ on Monday 5 December. In the match played at Al Janoub Stadium, MAEDA Daizen (Celtic FC) gave Japan the lead with a goal scored in the first half, but the finalist of the previous World Cup equalised in the second half. Japan lost the shootout 1-3 after a tense 1-1 draw in regulation time, missing out on advancing to their first-ever quarterfinals at the FIFA World Cup™.

In their seventh appearance at the world’s biggest stage, Japan advanced through the group stage for the second consecutive – and fourth overall – time. However, the team was once again denied by the “wall of the best 16.”

Japan entered their first match of the knockout stage with a three-back formation after pulling off stunning upsets by defeating Germany and Spain to take the top spot in Group E. The absence of ITAKURA Kou (Borussia MG), who received his second yellow card in the match against Spain, allowed TOMIYASU Takehiro (Arsenal) to make his first start of the tournament, while ENDO Wataru (VfB Stuttgart) and DOAN Ritsu (SC Freiburg) were reinstated to the starting line-up.

On the other hand, Croatia, who finished second in Group F where they made very few line-up adjustments during the group stage, made two changes. Bruno PETKOVIC was selected as the starting forward for this match against Japan, and Borna BARISIC made his first start in the tournament at left back.

Japan controlled ball possession early on in the match to generate opportunities. TANIGUCHI Shogo (Kawasaki Frontale) had a chance to convert a corner kick with a header in the third minute but was unable to hit the target. ITO Junya (Stade de Reims) sent a sharp cross towards the near post in the 12th minute, but Maeda's sliding attempt was just out of reach.

With their offence and defence working in tandem, Croatia anticipated to exploit the spaces behind the Japanese defence line, as shown in the eighth minute, when Ivan PERISIC chased a long feed, shook away Tomiyasu to break into the box, but GONDA Shuichi (Shimizu S-Pulse) was there to make the save. Josko GVARDIOL attempted to capitalise on a loose ball after a free kick in the 24th minute, but his shot sailed over the crossbar.

In the 40th minute, KAMADA Daichi (Eintracht Frankfurt) responded to a through ball delivered by Endo to break into the box but was not able to make good contact, as he launched the ball over the bar.

However, the golden moment came in the 43rd minute when Japan took a short corner to allow Doan to send a cross from an angle. The in-swinging cross delivered by the lefty was redirected by YOSHIDA Maya (FC Schalke 04) to set up the left footed shot of Maeda that found the back of the net.

The second half saw Croatia increase their intensity level, as they applied more pressure in both offence and defence. In the 55th minute, Perisic fired a powerful header to convert the cross of Dejan LOVREN to equalise the match.

Just two minutes later, Endo made an attempt from distance, but his shot was denied by a fine save made by the Croatian goalkeeper Dominik LIVAKOVIC.

Gonda also made his presence felt in front of the Japanese goal, as he made number of big saves to deny the shots of Luka MODRIC, Andrej KRAMARIC, and Perisic to keep the score tied at one all.

In efforts to change the dynamics of the match, Head Coach MORIYASU Hajime introduced MITOMA Kaoru (Brighton & Hove Albion FC) and ASANO Takuma (VfL Bochum) in the 64th minute, before brining SAKAI Hiroki (Urawa Red Diamonds) in the 75th minute and MINAMINO Takumi (AS Monaco) in the 87th minute.

However, after neither team was able to break the tie, the match entered extra time, in which Croatia, who had previously advanced to the World Cup final by winning a string of matches that went into extra time and penalty shootouts, displayed their persistency. They kept up their high level of play, while fully utilising their substitutions, and created chances through the likes of Lovro MAJER, who was introduced during extra time.

Japan’s best opportunity during extra time came in the 105th minute, when Mitoma carried the ball all the way from his own half to the edge of the opposition's box and fired a well struck shot that was parried by the goalkeeper. For the first time in the tournament, the match went to a penalty shootout after 120 minutes in which neither side gave an inch.

With Japan first to kick, Livakovic made saves against both of Japan's first two spot takers, Minamino and Mitoma, giving Croatia a 2-0 advantage. After Asano successfully converted his spot kick, Croatia missed their third. However, with Livakovic making his third save against Yoshida and Mario PASALIC making his shot, Croatia won the shootout 3-1 to advance to the quarterfinals.

In the quarterfinals, Croatia will now play Brazil, who defeated Korea Republic 4-1 later in the day. All three AFC teams that advanced to the knockout stage have now been eliminated after Argentina defeated Australia in the match that was played on Saturday.

Coach and Players’ Comments

MORIYASU Hajime, Head Coach of SAMURAI BLUE (Japan National Team)
We ended up losing the match after it went into a penalty shootout. It is very disappointing, but we must accept this result. The opposing goalkeeper made fantastic saves against us. I think our players fought courageously for 120 minutes and I am also proud of the players who, in the face of enormous pressure, volunteered to take the spot kicks. I want all of these players to walk around with their heads held high.
I gathered everyone together after the match to express my sincere gratitude to all the players, coaches, and staff members. Although we were unable to overcome the wall of the best 16 to reach new heights, the players showed us what it's like to compete and win against World Cup champions like Germany and Spain. They have undoubtedly demonstrated that Japan has entered a new era in which we can compete with the rest of the world. I also told them that we need to make the most of this bitter experience to improve ourselves both as a team and as individuals. I told them to hold their heads high and be grateful for having had the opportunity to compete on such a grand stage, for the many players who paved the way, and for all the support we received from the football community. Even though there were times when we lost possession of the ball, the players handled the risks well, which allowed us to conserve energy so that we could fight for 120 minutes. We made conscious efforts to improve our transitions from defence to offense after learning, from our experience at the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™, how physically taxing it can be when we lose control of the ball possession after taking the lead. We took on the challenge of advancing the game while controlling the ball possession, but we still need to improve the quality of our plays under higher intensity and speed. For the benefit of our players and the game of football, we must use this as a learning experience. We cannot achieve everything at once, so we must take it step by step.

FP #5 NAGATOMO Yuto (FC Tokyo)
The younger players undoubtedly elevated us to a new level, even though we were unable to advance to the quarterfinals. They displayed excellent growth and zeal, which convinced me that we had witnessed the future of Japanese football. I can only express my gratitude to my teammates for putting up with a terrible old player like me. Although they were in tears after missing their spot kicks, Minamino and Mitoma displayed incredible bravery by volunteering to take the shots. They deserve praise for that, and I'm incredibly proud of their bravery. I want to proceed to the next step without having any regrets about what I have done because I believe I was able to contribute in some small way to the team.

FP #8 DOAN Ritsu (SC Freiburg/Germany)
I am speechless at the moment, but I just want to apologise to the people of Japan. We were able to score from a wonderful play and showcase an aggressive performance in the first half. Despite all the great preparation work that led us to this strong performance, fatigue played a part in our inability to increase our intensity after giving up the equaliser. I also struggled to create any chances. Although our victories over Germany and Spain demonstrated our ability to overtake stronger opponents, the fact that we have now lost in the round of 16 four times makes me believe there is something we are lacking, and we intend to find that out.

FP #9 MITOMA Kaoru (Brighton & Hove Albion FC/England)
I'm responsible for taking the spot kick, and I'm sorry for what happened. I just wanted to help the team win. I made conscious efforts to contribute to our team’s offence and defence, but I regret that I wasn’t able to capitalise on the opportunities that were presented to me. I made many mistakes and couldn’t take on the opponents when facing two defenders. The fact that I couldn’t create any chances shows that I am not at that calibre yet. I regret that I couldn’t change the momentum for the team.

FP #15 KAMADA Daichi (Eintracht Frankfurt/Germany)
I am just very sad at the moment, and I don't know how to describe it. I wanted to play the entire 120 minutes and take the spot kick. I have been the spot taker for my club, so I felt helpless as I watched my teammates go through the shootout. Out of the four matches we played in this tournament, I think this was the best match, as we made conscious efforts to play the ball. I feel like I was able to contribute the bare minimum through these four matches, but I know I was expected to score goals, so that is something I regret. We have four years until the next World Cup, so I will continue to stive to become a better player.

FP #22 YOSHIDA Maya (FC Schalke 04/Germany)
The fact that we couldn’t score the second goal was huge, but we still managed to hold off our opponents to just one goal, so I think the defence did a great job for 120 minutes. We got through the group stage according to plan, as we rotated the players to keep everyone fresh, but our opponent’s defence at the knockout stage was solid. It is inevitably going to be tough when you miss three of the first four spot kicks. Unlike our matches against Germany and Spain, we weren’t fully committed to playing defence. It was great to see Japan go toe-to-toe against strong opponents like this. I think it is an encouraging sign for the future that we were able to showcase a performance like this against a strong opponent like Croatia. However, I am very disappointed that our journey ends here. I wanted to spend more time with this team. For the next four years, we will have to fight another battle to figure out how to get past the wall of the top 16.

FP #25 MAEDA Daizen (Celtic FC/Scotland)
I couldn't have come this far on my own, so I'd like to thank all the people who have supported me. As for the results, I think this is where Japan currently stands, so we just have to start from scratch again. Although I was able to score a goal, it doesn’t matter if the team doesn’t win. The ball just came towards me, so I just had to tap the ball in.

FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022™

Tournament Dates: Sun. 20 November - Sun. 18 December 2022
[Group Stage]
1st Match: Wed. 23 November 16:00 [Local Time] vs Germany National Team
2nd Match: Sun. 27 November 13:00 [Local Time] vs Costa Rica National Team
3rd Match: Thu. 1 December 22:00 [Local Time] vs Spain National Team

[Knockout Stage]
Round 16: Mon. 5 December 18:00 [Local Time] vs Croatia National Team

Tournament Information

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