Tops & Flops | Weak Japanese penalties mask strong World Cup as Ivan Perišić leads Croatia though


The underrated Ivan Perišić – Now 33, the Croatian is hardly considered a great of his generation but the former Bayern Munich forward has consistently produced match-affecting performances at the highest levels of the game in recent years. Instrumental in Croatia’s run to the final in 2018, adding a thunderous strike in the final, Perišić dragged his team back into this game via a precise header. A Champions League, Bundesliga and Serie A winner, while also winning cups with four clubs in a variety of roles, the Croatian is a big game player and has enjoyed the best period of his career of late after his form, and attitude, dipped during his seven-year Inter spell. In an aging Croatian side, Perišić was again the main instigator here and replacing his street smarts, ruthlessness and underrated quality won’t be easy.

Japan’s squad – Despite some poor penalties, Japan have proved markedly during this World Cup and could, like the USA, be in a position to become a major force in tournaments to come. Previous Japanese squads have lacked depth of technical ability and cutting edge but Hajime Moriyasu’s squad boasts a variety of options with top-level European experience capable of affecting games at this level. Reims attacker Junya Ito stood out here while the quality of Ritsu Dōan of Freiburg, Stuttgart midfielder Wataru Endo and Eintracht Frankfurt’s Daichi Kamada lead a group of talent that can’t be defined as a golden generation. Instead, this squad is the natural product of both an improving J-League and scouts of major teams recognising the talent available in Japan. They’ll be the first of many Japanese teams the challenge the established order.


Japan’s penalties – After extra time finished 1-1, the penalty shootout was over swiftly thanks to some weak penalty taking from Japan. Croatian goalkeeper Dominik Livaković made a trio of saves but none were particularly impressive as Maya Yoshida, Takumi Minamino and Kaoru Mitoma’s efforts lacked conviction and direction, largely trickling along the turf toward Livaković’s ankles. Although Takuma Asano was the only Japanese player of four to score for the spot, even his penalty might have been easily saved had Livaković waited for a split second longer before diving. Only 50% of the eight penalties were converted overall and Croatian striker Marko Livaja’s lazy run-up before striking the post was arguably the most frustrating of all.

Extra Time – After an even and interesting game over the first 75 minutes, the contest petered out as extra time approached while extra time itself became something of a non-event. Although heading straight for penalties after 90 minutes seems a little abrupt for a World Cup knockout game, alternatives to the 30-minute period should be explored and tested in other competitions as, tensions aside, extra time has offered little in the last 15 years of international football in terms of quality or genuine excitement.


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