Dominik Livakovic, the World Cup's newest hero! Winners and losers as Croatia end Japan's miracle run with penalty shootout win

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The Dinamo Zagreb goalkeeper saved three out of four penalties as the 2018 runners-up progressed to the quarter-finals in Qatar

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...

  1. WINNER: Dominic Livakovic
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    WINNER: Dominic Livakovic

    Definitely not a household name outside of Croatia, but Livakovic is a World Cup hero now.

    After making a few big stops throughout the 120 minutes, he emerged as Croatia's penalty shootout star. He stopped each of the first two spot-kicks, which were both fairly poor to be fair, getting hands to shots from both Takumi Minamino and Kaoru Mitoma.

    The tone was set from there, and though Marko Livaja missed a penalty of his own for Croatia, Livakovic made it three saves from four when he denied Maya Yoshida to set up Mario Pasalic to seal the deal.

    Dinamo Zagreb shot-stopper Livakovic was part of the Croatia squad back in 2018 as a backup. Now the starter, he's a key reason that they're still alive this time around.

  2. LOSER: Japan's penalty takers
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    LOSER: Japan's penalty takers

    It's a cruel way to define a football match, really. Penalties often come down to a bit of luck, a bounce here or a bounce there. There was no luck here, though. This was just poor.

    Japan's penalties simply weren't good enough to send them through. Yoshida, Mitoma and Minamino failed from the spot, and there's little more that you can say.

    What an opportunity it was, too. With Croatia's heavy-hitters, their experienced veterans, off the field, Japan must have liked their chances. But, from the moment Minamino missed with a weak effort, the life was sucked out of his team as they moved toward their inevitable exit.

  3. WINNER: Ivan Perisic
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    WINNER: Ivan Perisic

    Another big game, another big goal for Perisic, Croatia's most clutch player.

    He's a history-maker, too. His second-half finish was the 10th major tournament goal of his career, giving him more than the legendary Davor Suker. He also has now been directly involved in 10 goals in 14 World Cup matches, with only Lionel Messi and Kylian Mbappe being involved in more since the 2014 competition.

    His goal here was lovely, a perfect header from seemingly nowhere. Except it's never from nowhere when Perisic is wearing the red and white because, when he's on the field, a goal is always on its way.

  4. LOSER: Croatia's strikers
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    LOSER: Croatia's strikers

    You know what you're going to get from Croatia's midfield, perhaps the best at this tournament. Their defence has also looked pretty solid, with Dejan Lovren and Josko Gvardiol forming a formidable partnership ahead of Livakovic.

    But the strikers, they're a concern, aren't they?

    Croatia have gotten little out of their attackers, save for a Canada game where the opponents came out playing suicidal football with a two-man midfield. Croatia scored four in that game but just one in the other three combined. That will be nowhere near enough.

    Bruno Petkovic did nothing having been handed the start here before being replaced in the 62nd minute for Ante Budimir, who was subsequently benched for the penalty shootout. And then Marko Livaja, his replacement, was the only Croatian to miss from the penalty spot.

    A whole lot of not great. Croatia will need a lot more than that if they are to last through the weekend.

  5. WINNER: Brazil or South Korea
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    WINNER: Brazil or South Korea

    Croatia's experience got them through this game. It may be what holds them back going forward.

    There are some old legs in this Croatia squad, and those legs did a lot of running on Monday.

    Modric, 37, gave Croatia 99 good minutes while 30-year-old Brozovic played the full 120. Perisic, the goalscorer at age 33, logged 106 minutes.

    You could argue that those are Croatia's three most important players, and all are in the back half of their career. Games like this take a lot out of you, especially in the Qatari heat, even if it wasn't a particularly warm night.

    Whoever emerges from the other quarter-final in this section of the draw will be licking their chops. Croatia had the wisdom to win out on Monday, but will they have the legs to compete on Friday?