Japan received a harsh lesson at the hands of Croatia in the FIFA 2022 World Cup Round of 16 on Monday with a 3-1 penalty defeat after a 1-1 draw at the end of extra time.
Nigel Reo-Coker was blunt about it speaking on the House of Champions podcast after the match, "You will never forget that feeling again. And if you were to lose like I did, that feeling never goes. It stays with you for the rest of your bloody life," he said referencing his loss on penalties in the 2006 FA Cup final with West Ham.
Daizen Maeda's first half opener from a Maya Yoshida assist was canceled out by Ivan Perisic's second half header provided by Dejan Lovren, but more than an hour of goalless soccer followed and penalties were required to separate the two.
Dominik Livakovic was the hero for Vatreni with three penalty saves to deny Samurai Blue a place in the quarterfinals with Takumi Minamino, Kaoru Mitoma and Yoshida the unfortunate fall guys who saw their efforts repelled.
"The result of the penalties cannot be blamed on anyone," said Ritsu Doan after the game. "The problem was that we could not complete the game in 120 minutes."
"It is difficult to find the words," added Yuto Nagatomo. "I think the regret we feel with this loss will lead to something better in the years to come."
That Croatia's Marko Livaja was unable to convert his own was merely academic thanks to Livakovic's masterclass which brought back memories of Danijel Subasic's 2018 heroics when he saved four penalties in Russia to become just the third goalkeeper to save four or more World Cup spot kicks.
10 - Ivan #Perisic has been involved in 10 goals in 14 World Cup matches (6 goals, 4 assists) - since Perisic' World Cup debut in 2014, only Lionel Messi (12 - 8 goals, 4 assists) and Kylian Mbappé (11 - 9 goals, 2 assists) have collected more goals and assists. Terrible.— OptaPaolo 🏆 (@OptaPaolo) December 5, 2022
In fact, there were some spooky parallels between the 2022 and 2018 Round of 16 triumphs with both games going to penalties after 1-1 draws at the end of 90 minutes and each Croat shot stopper making a trio of saves to send their nation through.
Subasic went on to stop another spot kick in the quarterfinals against hosts Russia as Kockasti made a habit out of going all the way beyond 90 minutes en route to the final -- perhaps this is an omen of a repeat run.
However, as much as Croatia thrive in these circumstances, Japan appeared to be eaten alive by the occasion as Minamino, Mitoma, and Yoshida produced a feeble collective attempt at booking an Asian quarterfinal appearance when well positioned to do so.
The AS Monaco, Brighton and Hove Albion, and Schalke 04 men will likely be forgiven for their failures given the positive overall showing by Hajime Moriyasu's men, but that will not stop regret at a poorly executed set of penalties which will likely be granted great importance in the future.
"I do not think they succumbed to pressure," said Moryasu in defense of his players. "The players who played the 120 minutes and those who took the penalties were courageous. I would like to praise their efforts, they tried under such immense pressure. Of course, we wanted to win and the result is unfortunate, but it does not negate all the efforts of the players. We could not break the barrier towards the final eight, but the players were able to show a new generation of Japanese soccer."
"Penalties are a mix of luck and training," Moriyasu added when asked if their preparation had been adequate. "Their goalkeeper was excellent but the Japanese players should have done better and that is something we need to work on in the future."
Reo-Coker remembers that experience well and he's skeptical this is a problem training can fix. "And I'll say this now: No matter what they say about practicing, and how these clubs go in and practice so that they're mentally ready, it's all cobblers. It's never the same as it is on gameday, after playing 120 minutes worth of football. It's never the same. When you pick up that ball, that lonely walk to the goal, the goal just shrinks with every step you take, your legs are heavy like you're wearing concrete boots, and it becomes the hardest thing in the world."
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Euro 2008 v Turkey (QF) ✅— Opta Analyst (@OptaAnalyst) December 5, 2022
Euro 2016 v Portugal (L16) ✅
WC 2018 v Denmark (L16) ✅
WC 2018 v Russia (QF) ✅
WC 2018 v England (SF) ✅
WC 2018 v France (F) ❌
Euro 2021 v Spain (L16) ✅
WC 2022 v Japan (L16) ✅
7 of Croatia's last 8 tournament KO games have gone to extra time...
Croatia's monstrous mentality at that late stage has been formed by so many of their international knockout games going beyond 90 minutes -- precisely seven of their last eight with the one exception being the 2018 final loss to France in Moscow.
In fact, Zlatko Dalic's men are relying on that mental toughness more than ever now given that they drew two of their three Group F games 0-0 and are not quite as well equipped as they were four years ago -- notably in attack.
Croatia deserve credit for their battle hardened mentality which has been fostered and consolidated under Dalic for these past five years or so, but Japan will feel that a place in the quarterfinals was there for the taking and that this generation could perhaps have gone at least one step further.