The first stage of the tournament is finished. As I look back on it I can safely say it was one of the most exciting big tournament group stages I’ve experienced in my lifetime, and I’m sure plenty would agree.
The final matchday provided shocks all over, with some big names like Germany, Belgium, and Mexico going home already. Croatia looked set to combat Spain next but Japan grabbed another victory over the “big guys” again with a 2-1 result against Spain. Spain cannot be too disappointed with the result as it provided them with a more favourable run-in, avoiding both Brazil and Croatia in the process.
Japan come into the match as the underdogs but Croatia knows they can’t underestimate them. Croatia have only lost two of their eight knockout stage games at the World Cup, while Japan have never progressed past the last 16. Japan have conceded first in all three of their World Cup matches but came back to win two of those, with wins against Germany and Spain.
Japan form (all competitions): W L W L D
Croatia form (all competitions): D W D W W
When & Where?
Date: Monday, 5th of December, 2022.
Time:10:00 am ET / 3:00 pm GMT / 2:00 am AEDT
Venue: Al Janoub Stadium; Al Wakrah, Qatar
Hiroki Sakai and Takehiro Tomiyasu have been dealing with hamstring injuries but Tomiyasu is expected to start versus Croatia in the absence of Ko Itakura (suspension).
Borna Sosa is out with a virus (negative for corona), Stanisic didn’t train as he’s got a muscle injury.
Croatia looked dangerously open at the back versus Belgium. They got the job done but Belgium had chance after chance with Lukaku missing some huge chances. Gvardiol looked like the best Croatia player out there and he’ll look to keep building on that.
xG Croatia 0.69 – 3.22 Belgium
Martinez left the Belgium post and he can consider himself very unlucky with underlying numbers like that. On a different day, Lukaku grabs a couple to his name and Belgium goes through but that’s football.
Croatia have shown what they’re capable of against Canada but that’s two games now (Belgium, Morocco) where they couldn’t score. Morocco game was your average 50-50 game where the result could have gone either way but the Belgium game shouldn’t have happened. On the positive side of things, they haven’t conceded in either.
What was apparent in the Belgium game is just how much the Croatia #8s push up the field in the buildup phase at times. Brozovic is a fine anchor in midfield but he cannot be left isolated in space like that again, things look much more fluid when Modric drops deeper to help.
Japan came out of their group as heroes, mildly put. No one could have predicted wins against Spain and Germany and for them to be going through. This is already a big success for them.
Although they come into the game as slight underdogs, they’ve already shown how they can deal with the big teams. They bank on quick counters and setting up shop to protect the lead in two banks of four in front of Gonda. This is a highly disciplined team and they don’t mind running for each other. Sacrifice on defense and swift attacking moves got them where they are now.
I expect Croatia to have full control of possession with Japan patiently waiting for openings. Asano is a bullet once he stretches his legs and Doan has a wonderful eye for goal. Kamada’s shown what he can do over the years in Europe and he comes into the game as one of their key players but Croatia are aware of him with Dalic’s assistant Olic describing him as their best player.
The fact Croatia are likely to control possession doesn’t mean much for Japan, they know how to play without it. In fact, their wins against Spain and Germany came with 18% and 26% possession.
Tomiyasu is a rock at the back and while he hasn’t started any of the games because of an ongoing hamstring injury, he’s almost a guaranteed starter in this one.
This game should be a very interesting matchup of different styles, I expect a tough match for both.
Premier League Players in the Spotlight
Tomiyasu is expected to start as a part of a back three and Arsenal fans should be happy to see that he wasn’t rushed in any of the games, with this next game coming as his first in a starting role.
Croatia’s usual Premier League suspects are also expected to keep their place with Kovacic looking to build on a good tournament and Perisic to continue his fine form in the competition (2 assists).
Gvardiol isn’t a Premier League player yet but Chelsea fans should keep an eye on him in this one. He’s been undroppable for Croatia at the back and it seems all of Europe has been taking a look at the 20-year-old Leipzig defender.
Japan starting 11 (3-4-3): Gonda; Tomiyasu, Yoshida, H Ito; J Ito, Endo, Tanaka, Nagatomo; Doan, Asano, Kamada.
Croatia Starting 11 (4-3-3): Livakovic; Juranovic, Lovren, Gvardiol, Barisic; Modric, Brozovic, Kovacic; Kramaric, Livaja, Perisic.