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By Steve Douglas (AP) — Croatia is going deep at another World Cup, and the team is taking the long route once again.
Goalkeeper Dominik Livakovic saved three penalty kicks Monday in Croatia’s 3-1 win over Japan in a shootout, securing a return to the quarterfinals for the runner-up in the 2018 tournament.
On its run to the final four years ago, Croatia needed extra time in each round in the knockout stage — and twice came through a penalty shootout.
“We in Croatia do things this way, you could see that four years ago as well,” said Livakovic, who was the back-up goalkeeper to Danijel Subasic in 2018. “I continued the tradition.”
This time, Mario Pasalic converted the clinching penalty for Croatia after the teams were tied at 1-1 after extra time.
After the ball hit the net, Pasalic and the rest of Croatia’s jubilant players headed right for Livakovic, who had saved penalties from Takumi Minamino, Kaoru Mitomo and Maya Yoshida.
While Croatia — a semifinalist in 1998 — prepares to take on Brazil or South Korea in the quarterfinals, Japan exits a World Cup in the round of 16 for the fourth time, just like in 2002, 2010 and 2018. The Asian team also lost in a penalty shootout to Paraguay at that stage in 2010.
Asia is still waiting for a second team to advance beyond the last 16, after South Korea on home soil in 2002.
Japan made its mark in Qatar, though, having beaten Germany and Spain — two of the last three World Cup champions — in huge upsets in the group stage.
“The players showed a new era of Japanese football, I think,” Japan coach Hajime Moriyasu said. “They should use this feeling of being upset and try to go further next time.
“We cannot be superheroes in one go. We have to improve step by step. But Japan is reaching a level where we can play on the world stage.”
In an even 90 minutes of regulation play, striker Daizen Maeda put Japan ahead in the 43rd minute by sweeping in a close-range finish after Yoshida had inadvertently deflected the ball across the front of goal following a cross into the area.
Ivan Perisic equalized by meeting Dejan Lovren’s cross from the right with a header into the bottom corner from near the penalty spot in the 57th.
The result guarantees at least one more World Cup game for 37-year-old Croatia captain Luka Modric, one of the best midfielders of his generation. Modric was substituted in the first half of extra time and wasn’t part of the shootout.
Since 1998, all of Croatia’s knockout matches at a World Cup or European Championship have gone to extra time except for the 2018 World Cup final loss to France.