DOHA, Dec. 4 (Xinhua) — Japan look to make history on Monday as they aim to reach the World Cup quarterfinals for the first time in their history.
Japanese coach Hajime Moriyasu said following his side’s 2-1 win over Spain on Thursday that Asia continues to improve as a footballing force and, along with South Korea, Japan’s progress in this World Cup continues to show that.
A win over Croatia in their round of 16 tie would be another step towards Japan’s eventual aim of winning the World Cup and the Japanese have to be confident of success after defeating both Spain and Germany in the group stage.
Moriyasu has shown his nerve as a coach, being happy to surrender possession for long periods of the game and then looking to up the pace and catch their rivals on the break. They ended the Spain match with just 17 percent of the ball and had less than 30 percent against Germany.
The Spanish were stunned by Japan’s intensity at the start of the second half of their meeting when the introduction of Ritsu Doan and Kaoru Mitoma left them groggy for 20 minutes.
Moriyasu will have to decide whether that duo will start against Croatia or if he again uses them as impact players.
Croatia coach Zlatko Dalic has warned that his players cannot underestimate Japan.
“Before the group stage, if we could choose an opponent in the next round, some people may have said Japan, but after seeing them beat Germany and Spain, they are anything but an easier opponent.”
“If you are first in a group with Germany and Spain, it shows your quality and that you are playing at a really high level. What I would say about the Japanese team is that they never quit. They conceded goals at the beginning of the match both against Germany and Spain, but they came back,” he highlighted.
The 2018 runners-up qualified for the last 16 after a 0-0 draw with Belgium, but the fact Belgium striker Romelu Lukaku missed several good chances in the closing minutes of that game implies that Croatia will have to tighten up at the back against a rival that will look to exploit their lack of pace in midfield and defense.