Best bets for the Croatia-Japan World Cup match
Monday 10 a.m. ET
When Álvaro Morata put Spain ahead of Japan 1-0 after 11 minutes in the final group game, the soccer world expected Spain to cruise through that encounter and Japan to finish with nothing.
The Japan team, under coach Hajime Moriyasu, had other ideas. Japan fought back for a famous 2-1 victory, which not only led to qualification but also earned them first place in Group E. The game was mired in controversy. The ball appeared to go out of play before Japan’s second goal from Tanaka. Qualification was no small feat for Japan considering the group contained two of the superpowers of European football—Spain and Germany.
Sandwiched in between two wins over Germany and Spain, which will cement the Samurai blues' legendary status in Japan, was an awful performance in a 1-0 defeat to Costa Rica. That game will help Moriyasu keep his players grounded. If they are to advance to the final eight, they will have to be at their best against a classy Croatia. Japan has struggled to get possession in this World Cup, managing only 32.3% in their three games. They will likely have long periods without the ball and need to be at their swashbuckling best, sweeping forward in packs if they are to achieve victory. From what we have witnessed, it is not beyond them!
Croatia aims to spoil the Japanese party. The losing finalist from Russia 2018 arrives here after surviving a scare in their final qualification game. Had Belgium striker Romelu Lukaku converted one of many chances, Croatia may have been packing to go home rather than preparing for a Round of 16 battle. Lukaku took his frustration out on the substitute bench Perspex cover, destroying it with a left hook—the only shot he got on target all day. Croatia finished unbeaten, enough for second place in Group F, and is on a nine-game unbeaten run. Coach Zlatko Dalic hopes his Checkered Ones’ experience will overcome Japan and advance them to the last eight.
These two teams have faced off twice before in this tournament, with Croatia winning 1-0 in 1998, and then a 0-0 2006 draw in Germany.
Japan has no injury worries and a host of attacking options, but a concern is Ko Itakura, their defensive midfielder, has accrued two yellow cards and will miss this game.
Dalic has every coach’s dream at this stage—a fully fit squad to choose from. He hopes their talisman Luka Modric, still highly effective at age 37, can control the midfield and allow Croatia to play at their pace. Their nine-game unbeaten run and their trip to the final in 2018 demonstrate their pedigree, but they will need to improve from their poor performance against Belgium which was spared by Lukaku’s misses. He may change his frontmen after Andrej Kramaric and Marko Livaja looked out of form in that final game. Dalic may turn to Nikola Vlasic and Mario Pasalic to find the net.
Japan will concede lots of possession in this game, but we have seen the damage they can do with their attacking midfielders and forwards when they sweep forward. The pick here is for both teams to score. In a World Cup where the gap between emerging and established nations is narrowing, we saw both teams to score cash twice on Saturday. Australia scored against Argentina in a 2-1 defeat and the USA scored against the Netherlands in a 3-1 defeat. Japan will give this a real go, and at +100, I believe BTTS is too big.
Both Teams to Score “Yes” at +100