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Sport Preview: World Cup Last 16 - Mon 05th Dec

World Cup Last 16: Mon 5th Dec

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Japan vs Croatia: Mon 5th Dec, 3:00pm

Japan’s extraordinary journey through the 2022 World Cup continues on Monday when they take on Croatia in the round of 16.

Hajime Moriyasu’s side were given little hope at the start of the tournament after being drawn in the same group as Spain and Germany.

Despite the size of the challenge, Japan shocked the world by beating both of the European heavyweights to finish top of their World Cup group.

The prize for Japan is a knockout stage clash with Croatia – just their fourth round-of-16 appearance.

While the Samurai Blue have never won a match at this stage of the tournament, it would be hard to dismiss Moriyasu’s men considering how efficient they have been.

Japan had just three shots on target in their 2-1 win over Germany and enjoyed just 26% of possession.

The story was repeated against Spain as the Asian outfit once again produced three shots on target but only enjoyed 18% possession in their 2-1 victory – a World Cup record.

If Japan are to reach their first quarter-final, they will need to replicate that same level of efficiency against a rigid Croatian side.

While not exactly blessed in youth, the Croats are in great form and boast a solid defensive record.

Head coach Zlatko Dalic has watched his side keep two clean sheets in the group stage. What’s more, they have conceded just four goals in their last eight competitive outings.

Croatia have lost one of their last 19 games and considering they reached the final four years ago, they certainly boast enough tournament experience to give any nation a run for their money.

If there’s one thing we can count on in this fixture, it’s drama. Croatia’s last round-of-16 appearance at a major tournament came at the 2021 European Championships, which saw them lose 5-3 to Spain after extra-time.

If that wasn’t enough, three of Croatia’s four knockout games at the 2018 World Cup all went to extra-time, with two of those being determined on penalties.

While we don’t think penalties or extra-time will be needed on this occasion, we should be in for another close encounter against Japan, though the European outfit should progress.

Our recommendation is to back Croatia to win by a one-goal margin. Under 2.5 goals is another enticing option.

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