While they won’t be underestimating their opponents when they play them in the round of 16, on Monday, Croatia feels prepared to manage the Asians‘ need for pace. Croatia was as astonished as anybody by Japan’s group-stage victories over past champions Germany and Spain at the World Cup.
With a remarkable comeback victory over the four-time world champions Germany in their group stage opener, Japan went on to confirm their qualifying with a similar comeback triumph over the 2010 World Cup champions Spain.
Even though they only had 17% against Spain and 26% against Germany in terms of possession, they won both games.
“We did not expect this,” Croatia midfielder Lovro Majer said on Saturday. “I think hardly anyone expected that, but hats off to Japan.”
“They showed that it is not names that are playing, but what is more important is heart and courage. They deserved this and showed their quality.”
Even though Croatia, who finished second in 2018, may be the favorites, Majer said the competition’s history of major upsets should serve as a cautionary tale.
“If you underestimate someone today it will come back to bite you,” he said. “Everybody is playing good football. We have seen many surprises at this World Cup.”
“I think overall the football being played here is magnificent. One of the key reasons is because it is in the middle of the season where everybody is in top shape.”
In five appearances at the World Cup finals, Croatia has a perfect Round of 16 record, never losing their opening match after advancing out of their group.
They did enough to advance with two draws and a win, and fatigue has not been a problem despite the fact that they have not been as dominant in the group stage as they were four years ago.
“My tank is full,” said Croatia defender Josip Juranovic, a starter in all three of their group games. “This is the World Cup and it may only come once in your career.”
“When you see (37-year-old Luka) Modric sprint in the 89th minute then you get motivated to run as well. We are all in top shape in mid-season.”
Regarding the Japanese team’s explosive speed, which proved deadly against Spain and Germany, Juranovic claimed that their own 4-1 comeback victory over another quick team, Canada, had helped them prepare for Japan.
“Possession means nothing in football today,” he said. “They play very well as a team and they are fast. We showed against Canada we can deal with quick teams.”
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