The Samurai Blue secured top spot in Group E, having collected six points from three games to progress to the last-16, while Croatia finished runner-ups in Group F, with five points to their name.
Japan and Croatia will go head to head, aiming to secure a place in the quarter-finals of Qatar World Cup. The Samurai Blue secured top spot in Group E, having collected six points from three games to progress to the last-16, while Croatia finished runner-ups in Group F, with five points to their name. Japan kicked off their campaign with a historic 2-1 victory over Germany in their opener, before losing 1-0 to Costa Rica, and then quickly got back on track to get the better of Spain 2-1 in their final group match. The Checkers, meanwhile, started off with a goalless draw against Morocco, before thrashing Canada 4-1 in their second match and then ended the group stage with yet another goalless draw against Belgium.
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Japan has been one of the most tactical teams in the Qatar World Cup. They have always had a Plan B when things are not going right. Last time out, Alvaro Morata gave an early lead to La Roja, but Japan came out all guns blazing in the second half and netted twice through Ritsu Doan and Ao Tanaka to take all three points. Hajime Moriyasu’s side can switch to different formations according to the need of the hour. Against heavy opponents, they might opt to start with a defensive game plan, with the more attack-minded players starting on the bench, as seen against Germany and Spain. Of the four goals scored by Japan, three have been by substitutes. Moriyasu is likely to start with a 3-4-3 formation, with Maya Yoshida marshalling the back-three consisting of Takehiro Tomiyasu and Shogo Tanuguchi. The Japanese squad is super-fit, allowing them to play at high intensity for the entire 90 minutes. They can sit deep as well as press high up the field depending on the situation.
Croatia, on the other hand, have been solid at the back, having conceded just one goal in their three outings in the World Cup thus far. The midfield-trio of Luka Mordi, Mateo Kovacic and Marcelo Brozovic are going to be key to the Checkers’ success. Although Modric is 37 years old, the Real Madrid-man is showing no signs of slowing down as seen in the last match against Belgium, where he controlled the game while also contributing defensively. Meanwhile Zlatko Dalic’s side have failed to score in two of their last three games, which could be a cause of concern for the 56-year-old tactician. Andrej Kramaric is Croatia’s top scorer with two goals, both against Canada. Although winger Ivan Perisic works his socks off down the left channel, he will have to be more productive while going forward.
Japan defender ko Itakura picked up his second yellow card of the World Cup in the win against Spain and he will be suspended for Monday’s game. Therefore, Takehiro Tomiyasu should come into the back-three alongside Maya Yoshida and Tanuguchi. Meanwhile, right back Hiroki Sakai has rejoined training and could be fit for the bench. But Real Sociedad midfielder Takefusa Kubo is a fresh doubt due to a muscular problem. As for Croatia, left-back Borna is doubtful because of fever, while fellow defender Josip Stanisic is sidelined with a muscular injury. Meanwhile, the rest of the squad is fit and ready to go.
Japan probable starting lineup (3-4-3): Gonda, Tomiyasu, Taniguchi, Yoshida, Ito, Morita, Tanaka, Nagatomo, Doan, Maeda, Kamada
Croatia probable starting lineup (4-3-3): Livakovic, Juranovic, Lovren, Gvardiol, Barisic, Kovacic, Brozovic, Modric, Kramaric, Livaja, Perisic