By Ben Church, CNN
Goalkeeper Dominik Livaković made himself a national hero as Croatia beat Japan on penalties 1-1 (3-1) to reach the World Cup quarterfinals.
The 27-year-old saved three of Japan’s four penalties, while Croatia scored three out of its four efforts. Mario Pasalic struck the decisive spot-kick to send his side into the next round.
Croatia’s players immediately ran to Livaković in celebration as Japan’s brilliant run at Qatar 2022 ended in heartbreak.
The Samurai Blue was bidding to reach the men’s quarterfinals stage for the first time in its history, having been knocked out of the last 16 in 2002, 2010, 2018 and now 2022.
A shootout was needed to separate the two sides after Monday’s game had finished 1-1 at the full-time whistle, with Ivan Perisic’s powerful header canceling out Daizen Maeda’s first-half strike.
Croatia will face the winner of Brazil’s match against South Korea which will be played later on Monday.
Despite its defeat, Japan can look back at an impressive World Cup campaign. It produced two major shocks by beating both Germany and Spain to finish top of its group and came within a whisker of making the last eight for the first time.
“Every day, for four years, we worked hard to break this barrier [by reaching the final eight], but we couldn’t get the result we wanted,” captain Maya Yoshida said, per Reuters. “It’s really hard to take.”
Hajime Moriyasu’s side had started strongly against Croatia as well, dominating a first-half where its opponent struggled to find any rhythm.
Maeda’s goal came just moments before the half-time whistle and seemed to set Japan on course to victory. But Croatia, which was the beaten finalist in 2018, used its experience to dig itself out of a difficult situation.
Perisic’s bullet header in the 55th minute appeared to unsettle an increasingly tired Japan as both teams threatened to find a winner. But even after 30 minutes of extra-time and with penalties looming, neither side could find another breakthrough.
With both teams looking for a hero, it was Croatia’s Livaković who stepped up.
The goalkeeper, who plays for Dinamo Zagreb, impressively saved efforts from Takumi Minamino, Kaoru Mitoma and Maya Yoshida to set his side up for the victory.
He also became just the third goalkeeper to save three penalties in a single World Cup shootout.
It was a familiar story for Croatia. At the World Cup in 2018, Zlatko Dalić’s team won three knockout rounds after forcing the game into extra-time, and it was this previous experience that helped it get past Japan, which had looked more likely to win for much of the game.
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