Japan vs. Croatia
Last cup’s runner ups, Croatia, played a lengthy and challenging encounter against Japan, but ultimately prevailed on penalties to advance to the quarterfinals where they will face the victor of the contest between Brazil.
When the game ended in a draw after regulation and overtime, penalties were used to decide the winner. Croatian goalie Dominik Livakovic saved three penalties to win the game.
Japan made a strong first impression, forcing Croatia to be cautious with the ball early on in the first half. Even though Bruno Petkovic and Ivan Perisic gave Croatia the best opportunity to score the game’s first goal twice, Japan was able to hold on.
Until Japan scored the first goal of the night in Qatar as the first half came to a close, the game appeared to be rather lifeless. Following a corner kick, Daizen Maeda scored and profited from some miscommunication within the Croatian box. The Japanese attacker was able to get to the ball sooner and avoid missing Dominik Livakovic.
Ivan Perisic scored the equalizer with a wonderful header to give Croatia the momentum they needed to respond in the second half and tie Davor Uker for the World Cup’s most goals with six.
From that point on, it appeared that Croatia had more, but the World Cup champions of 2018 didn’t exert themselves enough and failed to score despite having two excellent chances with Luka Modric and Ivan Perisic once more. The game entered overtime for the first time in this competition’s edition after regular time ended 1-1.
The extra time was not memorable, as is usually the case, and the teams were more focused on preventing the second goal than they were about scoring the victor. Before the penalties, Croatian manager Zlatko Dalic made the decision to substitute Luka Modric, Mateo Kovacic, and Ivan Perisic.
Dominik Livakovic, Croatia’s goalie, put up an outstanding performance, save three penalties to help his team defeat Japan 3-1 on penalties. Croatia will compete against the victor of Brazil vs. South Korea in the quarterfinals.
Despite everything the Japanese team has accomplished, Coach Hajime Moriyasu and his players will return from Qatar with a lingering sense of remorse. Japan has never advanced past the round of 16 at a World Cup. Even though Japan’s group phase draw had not been favorable, the knockout bracket had gone in its favor. It had this opportunity. There might not be one better.
Slowly but slowly, Croatia drained Japan of all its pleasure. It was unwilling to put up with any instability, unlike Germany and Spain. It wasn’t for fun; it was for business. Drama and plot twists have no place in the situation. In reality, there was nothing but a box to tick and some papers to file.
South Korea vs. Brazil
The turf was a little slimy to the touch, the stadium was bouncing and jiving, and the football was from a happier and less troubled world. It was a calm and hot night in the capital of Qatar.
And while witnessing Brazil’s symphonic destruction of South Korea, there were moments when it was easy to temporarily put aside worldly concerns, indulge in life’s lesser pleasures, and lose oneself.
Brazil really did play that well. They played the type of football we haven’t seen from them in a long time for the opening 40 minutes as they waltzed and weaved their way to a four-goal lead: special effects football, computer game football, and football so filthy you needed a cigarette and a shower after watching it.
Neymar, Richarlison, Raphinha, Vincius Junior, and Lucas Paquetá blazed little triangles, quadrilaterals, and shapes without names for 40 minutes.
These shapes were embellished and gilded with wicked flicks and outrageous stepovers, and they were topped with the choreographed dances they had been practicing for months.
Not out of a desire to see the Koreans humiliated, but rather out of pure enjoyment—how could you ever want something this delightful to end?—the crowd cried out for more. Perhaps it served as a reminder that although football may have originated on the playing fields of English public schools, Brazil’s pampas and praias are where it was ultimately refined.
And one could picture an 82-year-old cancer patient quietly nodding in agreement as they watched on a hospital TV in Sao Paulo as this hypnotic swirl of yellow shirts captured their attention.
After that, the Brazilian athletes gathered around a flag that read: “PELE!” It was appropriate and moving, courteous and restrained—everything their ridiculous Neymar homage from eight years ago was not. Maybe this is a Brazil team that has taken lessons from its past as well as been inspired by it.
So, will this year be 1982 or 2002? Brazil will not be able to gracefully exit Qatar as lovely losers. If they lose, none of this will mean anything. The tight-lipped Croatia, who will face South Korea in the quarterfinals, will present an altogether different type of challenge to the smug and worn-out South Korea.
There are still some concerns regarding the defense, as Paik Seungho managed to score a late consolation, and Alisson was forced to make at least two outstanding saves. However, this was not the time for harsh facts.
That much was obvious as soon as Vincius Jnior scored the game’s first goal with an amazing, improvised practical joke finish: a quick punt of the toe with one cheeky Ronaldinho-like movement. Raphinha used some excellent skill on the right to build up the opportunity. Seven minutes were shown on the clock.
Richarlison was fouled very quickly, and Neymar, who was returning, netted the penalty, throwing Kim Seung-gyu the wrong way with a little comedic shuffle.
South Korea may have known at that moment that the evening would be prolonged. On minute 28, Richarlison would go on to score the best goal of the game by dribbling the ball three times on his head, laying it off, retrieving it, and finishing coolly. This time, the jig was joined by even coach Tite.
South Korea took the risk. What more were they able to do? However, every Korean attack made them more susceptible to the speed of the break.
Just before halftime, one such counter led to a dinked cross from Vincius Jnior, which was finished with a blistering finality by Paquetá on the volley. Despite Alisson’s two strong saves from Hwang Heechan.
Really, it was sufficient. Everyone would have been pleased if the game had been called off after 45 minutes. However, due to competition rules, Brazil was still required to play the second half, which developed with a pace and intensity that was comparable to a lucrative preseason friendly in Charlotte. Finally, even if it was just the football equivalent of a party bag, the Koreans earned something.
Brazil qualified for the quarterfinals with a goal from the penalty spot by Neymar.
“I thought my World Cup was finished,” Neymar said after scoring.
A roaring memento for the Korean supporters, who have been so unforgettable, was Paik’s goal, which he slammed in from a distance after Casemiro headed away a free-kick.
So, the last Asian team competing in the World Cup has been eliminated. Undoubtedly, South Korea has had its share of memorable moments during this tournament, not the least of which was their thrilling victory over Portugal. Another memorable moment was when the team gathered around a small mobile phone screen shortly after the game’s conclusion to watch the thrilling Uruguay game.
Son Heung-min will be 33 in 2026, so the majority of their team likely has one more World Cup in them, and in Cho Gue-sung, their striker, they have found a great star who could soon be joining Celtic.