Japan’s giant killings got them this far. Wins over Germany and Spain, wow. Two wins that will be remembered by fans all over the world.
They took down two heavyweights to earn their spot in the knockout rounds but, when it came down to it, they just didn’t quite have the stomach to take down one more.
In the end, Croatia’s experience and mettle won out at Al Janoub Stadium on Monday. Maybe fairly, maybe unfairly. You can argue the merits of a penalty shootout, but you can’t argue Croatia’s knack for such a thing.
After a back-and-forth 1-1 draw with few chances but plenty of drama, the penalty shootout was largely drama-free. Croatia, ultimately, cruised as Japan missed three times to seal their World Cup exit.
It will go down as another famous win for the Croatians, who won the shootout despite the fact that the old guard of Luka Modric, Mateo Kovacic and Ivan Perisic weren’t even on the field. They won two of these on their road to the final in 2018 in Russia – do they have the strength to make that type of run again?
As for Japan, heartbreak. Pure heartbreak. They were so close to killing off another giant, to advancing to the quarter-finals, to making history for their country.
They just didn’t quite have the nerve when it counted, though. Oh, what could have been…