Giant-slaying experts Japan continue their epic World Cup adventure this afternoon when they take on Croatia in the Round of 16 at the Al Janoub Stadium in Al Wakrah.
The Samurai Blue unexpectedly pipped Spain and Germany to top spot in Group E thanks to their ‘goal of a thousand angles’ against La Roja, while Croatia needed Belgium to miss 3.22 xG worth of chances on matchday three to squeeze out of Group F. Whose luck will run out today?
Below, you’ll find a treasure trove of key stats from the teams’ World Cup qualification campaigns. Use the data below in conjunction with my Stats Pack Guide to construct stronger bet builders for the game.
Defender Ko Itakura collected his second yellow card of the World Cup in Japan’s win against Spain and he will sit out today’s Round of 16 tie through suspension as a result. Arsenal’s Takehiro Tomiyasu should replace Itakura in the XI today.
Hiroki Sakai is back in training and is an option to start at right-back, though Takefusa Kubo is a slight doubt with a muscle problem. Kaoru Mitoma and Ritsu Doan will both be pushing to start today having impressed off the bench against Spain.
Josip Stanisic has a muscle strain and won’t be available for Croatia today while fellow defender and first-choice left-back Borna Sosa is under the weather with a fever and is touch-and-go today.
Luka Modric and Dejan Lovren will be desperate to avoid a booking this afternoon. Both players are walking a suspension tightrope and will miss the quarter-finals if they are cautioned against Japan.
Japan are a wonderful advert for team spirit and never-say-die attitude, however, despite weaving some fantastic plotlines as underdogs, they have been flying by the seat of their pants a little in Qatar.
The Samurai Blue rank 31st out of 32 teams at the World Cup for average possession per game (32.1%), while they’ve been conceding more shots per 90 (13.70) than any other side left in the competition.
Japan have shipped just three goals in three matches so far, though their xG against per 90 figure (1.78) suggests their defence hasn’t been a solid as their record indicates.
Croatia did all of their best work in the group stage from an attacking perspective in one game against Canada, when they scored four times and lodged an xG of 3.24, however, they managed just 1.59 xG combined in their 0-0 draws with Morocco and Belgium either side of that 4-1 triumph over the Canadians.
Defensively, the Vatreni were impressively mean in two thirds of their group matches, allowing Morocco and Canada to rack up just four attempts on target between them, though Croatia were alarmingly porous against Belgium on matchday three and but for Romelu Lukaku’s comical finishing, they’d have already been on a plane heading home.
Player Shots and Shots on Target
Takuma Asano’s figures in both columns are eye-catching, though the 28-year-old has yet to start a game at the World Cup and the attacker will probably be used as an impact sub again today. Ritsu Doan – who has started just once – also falls into that category.
The Samurai Blue have been able to turn games on their head through intelligent substitutions in the second half of their fixtures in Qatar and that could be something to look out for today.
Of Japan’s regular starters, Daichi Kamada has been one of their more consistent performers in the shooting department (1.43), while Junya Ito (0.87), who has started twice, has provided some cutting edge from the flank.
Andrej Kramaric has started all of Croatia’s games in Qatar and the 31-year-old shots (2.17) and shots on target per 90 (1.30) figures both make for healthy reading.
Marko Livaja, who has two starts under his belt, also had decent numbers to crow about (1.88 SOT p90), while reliable midfielders Luka Modric and Marcelo Brosovic are usually good for one attempt per appearance on average.
Player Goals and Assists
With two goals in just 131 minutes of football, Ritsu Doan has been Japan’s super-sub in Qatar, and all but one of the Samurai Blue’s four World Cup strikes so far have been provided by players introduced from the bench.
Japan have been finishing their games strongly thanks to an injection of late energy from the sidelines and Head Coach Hajime Moriyasu will have something planned for the dying embers of today’s game again should his team need another bailout.
In terms of creativity, Junya Ito, Kaoru Mitoma and Ko Itakura have all claimed one assist each, while Mitoma (seven) and Ito (six) also rank one and two for Japan for shot-creating actions.
Andrej Kramaric tops the scorers’ charts for Croatia, though the forward bagged both of his goals in a single sitting against Canada. Marko Livaja and Lovro Majer also plundered their only efforts in the same game. However, all of Croatia’s attackers looked pretty tame against both Morocco and Belgium either side of that Canadian mauling.
Ivan Perisic (two assists) still looks as creative as ever from the flanks and the 33-year-old ranks joint-second for shot-creating actions alongside Mateo Kovacic (eight each). Midfield magician Luka Modric (nine) beats them both in that department, however, the 37-year-old’s delicious passes haven’t been rewarded by a goal in Qatar just yet.
The suspended Ko Itakau’s absence takes an excellent card candidate off the table for Japan today, though Wataru Endo (3.00 fouls per 90), Ao Tanaka (1.5 tackles per game) and Hidemasa Morita (two fouls in total) look like solid alternatives in the midfield battleground, where those selected will have work hard to disrupt the flow of Croatian’s talented technicians in the middle.
In defence, Shogo Taniguchi is also worth considering this afternoon. The 31-year-old started for the first time in Qatar against Spain and he was booked for one of the three fouls he committed against La Roja.
Silky midfield pair Mateo Kovacic (2.14) and Luka Modric (1.72) have been Croatia’s most-fouled players per 90 in Qatar, and both pass-masters should earn plenty of attention from Japanese anchormen (Tanaka, Endo or Morita).
Further forward, wing-wizard Ivan Perisic or Marko Livaja (fouled 1.25 times p/90) could feel the full force of Shogo Taniguchi ‘s heavy tackles, though the Japanese defender’s target will alter depending on his starting position today. The 31-year-could could be deployed as a right-back (vs Perisic) in a flat four or as one of three centre-halves (vs Livaja).
Match-Ups to watch
Hidemasa Morita vs Mateo Kovacic
Wataru Endo/Ao Tanaka vs Luka Modric
Shogo Taniguchi vs Ivan Perisic/Marko Livaja
Luka Modric and Dejan Lovren are the only Croatian players to have been carded in Qatar, though the latter seems in greater danger today when he pits his single-speed engine against some jet-heeled Japanese attackers.
At left-back Borna Sosa (two fouls) could be one to watch, particularly if he’s rushed back from illness to feature. Holding midfielder Marcelo Brosovic has yet to see yellow, though he has been committing a notable 2.0 fouls per 90 and 2.3 tackles per game.
Daizen Maeda (fouled 1.54 times p/90) is one of several livewire forwards in Japan’s frontline and his incessant work rate could make him a real handful for the ageing Dejan Lovren this afternoon.
On the right flank, Junya Ito (0.87) will hope to utilise his running power against a less-than-fully fit Borna Sosa. Wataru Endo – who has been Japan’s most-fouled player at the World Cup – should collide with Croatia’s Brosovic on occasion. Sparks could fly when that happens. If Endo doesn’t make the XI, then Ao Tanaka should be on Brosovic’s radar instead in the same position.
Match-Ups to watch
Dejan Lovren vs Daizen Maeda
Borna Sosa vs Junya Ito
Marcelo Brosovic vs Wataru Endo/ Ao Tanaka