Japan vs Croatia Prediction
5th December 2022
18:00 Qatar Time/15:00 GMT
Al Janoub Stadium, Al Wakrah
Referee: Ismail Elfath (United States)
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World Cup Head-to-Head Record
Played:2 Croatia Wins:1 Draws:1
Japan vs Croatia Prediction Match Overview
The result of Japan vs Croatia will determine who earns the right to face the winners of Brazil – South Korea. Japan had a topsy-turvy time in Group E. They first came from behind at half-time to stunningly beat Germany in a memorable game. Needing only to win against Costa Rica to secure a place in the knockout phase, the Japanese surprisingly lost 1-0 to the team who had been decimated 7-0 by Spain. In the final game, requiring a win against the Spaniards, the Iberians toyed with Japan in the first half, taking the lead and dominating possession. However, a fantastic shot by Ritsu Doan got the Japanese back into the game just after half-time. This strike was incredibly followed by an Ao Tanaka goal three minutes later. Indeed, there has been much controversy over whether the ball crossed the byline before Kaoru Mitoma cut back for Tanaka. Either way, the Japanese won the game, eliminated the Germans, and topped the group.
Croatia had a mixed time in Group F. They first played out a drab 0-0 draw with Morocco. They went behind in the second game against Canada to a very early Alphonso Davies header. However, they responded to control the game and teach the North Americans a football lesson, winning 4-1, including two goals by forward Andrej Kramaric. The final match against Belgium was again a drab affair, with Croatia needing just a draw to qualify. Belgian striker Romelu Lukaku was subbed on and missed a host of chances, including one where Croatian defender Josko Gvardiol nicked it away from him at the last moment. The World Cup Finalists from four years ago got their point.
The teams now meet in the fifth round of 16 match at 6 pm on Monday. It promises to be a fascinating encounter. Japan have already proved that they can pull off shocks. Suppose someone said before the tournament that they would win Group E (containing Spain and Germany) despite losing to Costa Rica. Other people would have roundly mocked that person. Therefore, Japan should not be taken lightly. The winners of Japan vs Croatia will face either Brazil or South Korea in the quarter-finals.
Injuries and Suspensions
Might not play:
Will not play: Ko Itakura (Japan)
Japan vs Croatia Prediction Analysis
The Midfield Contest
We expect Japan to again line up in their 3-4-3/3-4-1-2 formation, as it has served them well in this tournament. This match should be well-contested. Croatia are the favourites, but Japan have already proved they are a good team. The midfield battle will likely be crucial. Both teams have outstanding midfielders and an abundance of technical ability. Indeed, some have claimed that the Croatian midfield is the best in the tournament (though Spain would dispute this). Therefore, they will likely seek to try to control the game and dominate proceedings, similar to how Spain did in the first 45 minutes against the Asians. Japan have several talented midfielders, though we anticipate that Ao Tanaka and Hidemasa Morita will start this game, with Daichi Kamada dropping deeper to help them.
Japan will be up against Marcelo Brozovic, Mateo Kovacic and, of course, the irrepressible Luka Modric. The Croatian midfield is ageing, and there is a fair claim that the Japanese have more legs and stamina, being younger and full of energy. However, this would do a disservice to the intelligence, technical ability, and sheer understanding of positioning that the Croatian three possess. The three Eastern Europeans will seek to take the ball from the goalkeeper and defenders Dejan Lovren and Josko Gvardiol and play patterns and triangles to give Croatia control in Japan vs Croatia.
Tanaka and Morita must engage and press high. However, this may be risky as the Croatian midfield is press-resistant and adept at playing out of tight spaces. Though Japan have great midfielders, Croatia will likely have more possession. Indeed, it suited Japan in the group stage to concede possession and play on the counter with their fast transitions. It is no coincidence that they got joy attacking the overexposed German and Spanish backlines after the Europeans lost the ball but struggled to break down a stubborn Costa Rican defence.
Therefore, playing against a similar technical team in Croatia, Tanaka and Morita will look to run around aplenty and try to win the ball to release Kamada and Ritsu Doan. We also think Daizen Maeda will start instead of Takuma Asano. Asano is the more significant goal threat, but Maeda has an excellent work rate and is likelier to press and harry the Croatian defenders and midfielders. Croatia will use all their experience and ability to try to retain calm and take the spark and energy out of the Japanese team. Modric is particularly good at this, as he has been blunting effervescent opposition all his career.
The Wide Areas
The width will also be imperative in Japan vs Croatia. Similar to the midfield, both teams have talent out wide. Japan have numerous options, but we expect them to play Kamada as a false winger on the left and Doan as a more natural winger on the right. Junyo Ito and Yuto Nagatomo can play as the wing-backs. Ito is more of a natural attacker, so using him as a wing-back with all his trickery and stamina can give the Japanese a different dimension in attack. It will allow them to create overloads using their many wide players. It is also vital that Nagatomo gets up and down the pitch to support Kamada. As stated, Japan love to counter-attack, so when they win the ball, they must try to feed it wide and attack Croatia after the Eastern Europeans have over-committed. The Japanese can attack the areas Borna Sosa or Josip Juranovic vacate from the Croatian full-back positions. Indeed, these channels will prove crucial. When the game is more balanced, Japan’s turns of possession will likely be when the Croatian full-backs are still in position. Hence, it will be up to Kamada, Doan, and Ito to take them on and try to cut inside them or go outside them and play crosses for Maeda or the opposing winger.
Speaking of the Croatian full-backs, they are integral to the Croatian game plan. Throughout the tournament, Sosa and Juranovic have displayed that they are good at supporting their wingers. We expect the experienced Ivan Perisic to play on the left. His link-up with the talented Sosa will be vital in trying to get in behind Ito on the Japanese right. As said, Ito is not a naturally defensive player. Therefore, it will be important that Takehiro Tomiyasu covers that right channel from right centre-back when Ito drives forward. Persic will likely come inside and either try to get shots away or slip little balls behind the defence for Marko Livaja. Despite being right-footed, Perisic is also good on his left foot. He will sometimes look to get down the line and deliver crosses for the other attackers. He can also use Sosa as a decoy to keep the Japanese guessing. Japan have three centre-backs and plenty of cover and height. Therefore, it is imperative that they are wary of crosses, both high and low, as Croatia are pretty tall in attacking areas. Andrej Kramaric will likely play as a false winger; he is more of a centre-forward and will come central often to join Livaja in Japan vs Croatia. Hence, the Japanese midfielders will have to cover the spaces between the lines where he and the Croatian midfielders enjoy operating. We anticipate a lot of wing play in this match and wouldn’t be surprised if there are goals from crosses or cutting inside.
Replacements are even more critical in the tournament’s knockout phase, with players injured, suspended or fatigued, and potentially extra time happening. Teams’ subs made much impact in the group stage, with five allowed, and they could be crucial again here.
Indeed, Japanese coach Hajime Moriyasu has made some excellent substitutions throughout this tournament. He can bring on Asano later in the game, who is a greater goal threat than Maeda. Takumi Minamino is a similar style player to Kamada and can inject invention into the play. Out wide, Takefusa Kubo and Mitoma can come on to try to change the game. Indeed, Mitoma has been one of Japan’s players of the tournament, and it is strange that he is not starting. However, Moriyasu perhaps sees him as more of an impact player. Mitoma’s fantastic dribbling and creativity down the left side have been very profitable for Japan and can be again.
Croatia can bring on Mario Pasalic or Nikola Vlasic to add creativity and further trickery. Vlasic, especially, can be a good impact sub. Mislav Orsic and Bruno Petkovic are good forward options to introduce if they need more craft and pace up front or if Livaja and Kramaric tire.
Japan Key Players
Tanaka was excellent against Spain. Indeed, he got into the box to finish for the winning goal. However, this was far from his only contribution, as his tireless work and defensive discipline after his goal aided the Japanese in keeping Spain out and stopping them from scoring. He can be very pleased with his night’s work and go into Japan vs Croatia with confidence. Tanaka knows coming up against the Croatian three in midfield is a massive test. He must use all his energy and pressing ability to disrupt the Croatian rhythm. As a good passer of the ball, he will also be vital in evading Croatia’s own press and setting the Japanese away on transitions.
Doan is a very exciting winger; his dribbling and trickery will be crucial in this match. He took his goal beautifully against Spain. It was a strike with his excellent left foot from just outside the box that Spanish goalkeeper Unai Simon was helpless to keep out. His goal was the catalyst for the Japanese comeback, and coach Moriyasu will be hoping that Doan can show more of his pace, dribbling, and link up against Croatia. His combination with Ito on the right should be exciting. Ito is more of a winger himself, and they should complement each other well. Doan must try to take on Sosa as often as he can.
Croatia Key Players
Gvardiol is only 20, yet he already plays with so much maturity and is wise beyond his years. He has been outstanding in this tournament, marshalling the defence and showing such composure. He is technically gifted and his passing out from the back is good. Against Japan’s buzzy attackers, Gvardiol must use all his sense of timing and positioning to make interceptions, blocks and snuff out the danger. He will likely be left one-on-one in counter-attack situations, which he is good at stopping. His interception to deny Romelu Lukaku in the Belgium game was world-class. Indeed, he will likely have to produce some more moments like that if Croatia are to reach the quarter-finals.
Modric is widely regarded as one of the greatest midfielders in history. After winning the Golden Ball at the 2018 World Cup, Modric has continued his fine form in this edition. He has played with his usual composure, intelligence, and superb passing ability and generally controlled the game against Morocco. He also put on a passing masterclass against Canada. The Japanese midfielders will look to press Modric and disrupt his ability to orchestrate the play. However, Modric is fully capable of evading their press and finding little gaps and weaknesses in the Japanese system. As a complete midfielder, Croatia’s talisman, and the team’s best player, Modric will look to be creative in advanced areas and stifle Japan’s energy when he is defending.
Japan vs Croatia Prediction
Both these teams navigated the group phase on merit. As such, this is one of the trickier last 16 games to call. Some matches are a clear favourite winning the group against a much poorer team (France vs Poland, for example). However, with Japan being the surprise winners of Group E and Croatia coming second in a very open Group F, this is an evenly-matched contest. If Croatia get into their groove and control the game, they could make it a very long evening for the Oriental nation.
On the other hand, Japan are fully capable of upsetting Croatia’s possession game through vigorous pressing and creating opportunities themselves. There is some caution here, though, as Canada are a very energetic and fast team like the Japanese, yet Croatia taught them a football lesson. However, Canada don’t have as many technically gifted players as Japan, and we think the Japanese can do well here. Japan are a good team, and after defeating Spain and Germany, will believe they can beat anyone. Japan vs Croatia could go all the way to penalties, but we have decided to play a little safer and predict a Croatian win in extra time. Make no mistake, though – Japan should be a threat here, and Croatia will not underestimate them.
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