After watching his teammates fall behind, goalkeeper Dominik Levakovic was the difference-maker in the shootout, making three saves from four shots to propel Croatia into the FIFA World Cup quarter-finals after a goalless 1-on-1 draw against Japan.
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Levakovic yielded to Takuma Asano, but said no to Maya Yoshida, Kaoru Mitoma and Takumi Minamino, while Mario Pasalic, Marcelo Brozovic and Nikola Vlasic hit the target in the other clan.
Thus, he became the third goalkeeper in the history of the World Cup to save three times at this stage of play, after his compatriot Daniel Subasic in 2018 and Portuguese Ricardo in 2006.
“It’s an extraordinary feeling,” Levakovic said. Thank God it ended well. They pressed hard from the start of the game, which was tough. This is the greatest moment in my career.”
“It wasn’t easy, we didn’t develop at our usual level, we fired Luka Modric. We showed character to get back to the point. And that’s where [Livakovic] did a miracle. It was a very difficult and exhausting match.”
For Croatia, who reached the final against France in 2018, this is a third victory in as many tries in the Round of 16. Seven of his last eight World Cup or European Championship play-off matches have also required extra time or penalties.
This victory would not have happened had it not been for Ivan Perisic’s net in the 55th minute. He thus put the two teams on an equal footing after Daisen Maeda’s goal in the other clan in the 43rd minute.
“It seems we can’t do without a little drama,” Modric said. We are more than happy to be in the quarter. It was a very tough match against a tight team. They’re running, they’re physical.”
The Croats will now meet Brazil on Friday, who beat South Korea 4-1 on Monday.
For Japan, who beat Spain and Germany in the group stage, it’s fourth in the round of 16. He never took that step at the World Cup.
“We gave everything we could in this tournament and had some great results against Spain and Germany,” Yoshida said. I am proud of the team and proud of my team mates. I would like to thank all the fans in the stands and watching on TV. It’s tough, but I’m really proud of what we did.”