Croatia goalkeeper Dominic Kivakovic saved penalties from Takumi Minamino, Kaoru Mitoma, and Maya Yoshida before Mario Pasalic netted the winning spot-kick in their 3-1 shootout win over Japan on Monday to reach the World Cup quarter-finals.
With the scores deadlocked at 1-1 after an absorbing 90 minutes, Japan’s Kaoru Mitoma went closest in the scrappy half-hour of extra time, forcing Kivakovic to parry away his powerful drive.
Daichi Kamada had shot off target after a flowing Japan counter-attack minutes before Daizen Maeda deservedly put them ahead in the 43rd minute, firing home from close range after Ritsu Doan delivered an in-swinging cross into the penalty area.
Croatia forward Ivan Perisic, who was denied by Japan goalkeeper Shuichi Gonda in the opening minutes, pulled them level 10 minutes into the second half after meeting Dejan Lovren’s cross with a powerful header.
Croatia will face either Brazil or South Korea in the quarter-finals.
Daizen Maeda scored from a well-worked short corner just before the break to give Japan a 1-0 halftime lead over Croatia in their World Cup last-16 clash on Monday.
Maeda connected with Ritsu Doan’s cross to break the deadlock in the 43rd minute as the sides battled it out for the right to meet Brazil or South Korea, who play later on Monday, in the quarter-finals.
Japan coach Hajime Moriyasu brought Takehiro Tomiyasu into his defence in place of the suspended Ko Itakura as one of three changes to his side for the FIFA World Cup last-16 game against Croatia on Monday.
Itakura had received a second yellow card of the tournament in Japan's stunning upset of Spain in their final group match, so Tomiyasu, who has made two appearances off the bench as he struggles to shake off an injury, starts.
Moriyasu also brought Wataru Endo and Ritsu Doan back into his midfield at the expense of Takefusa Kubo and Ao Tanaka, who scored against Spain.
Croatia coach Zlatko Dalic made two changes to his largely settled starting line-up, bringing in Borna Barisic for Borna Sosa at left back and Bruno Petkovic for Marko Livaja in midfield.
Shuichi Gonda; Takehiro Tomiyasu, Maya Yoshida (captain), Shogo Taniguchi; Junya Ito, Wataru Endo, Hidemasa Morita, Yuto Nagatomo; Ritsu Doan, Daichi Kamada, Daizen Maeda
Coach: Hajime Moriyasu (JPN)
Dominik Livakovic; Josip Juranovic, Dejan Lovren, Josko Gvardiol, Borna Barisic; Mateo Kovacic, Luka Modric (captain), Marcelo Brozovic; Ivan Perisic, Andrej Kramaric, Bruno Petkovic
Coach: Zlatko Dalic (CRO)
Referee: Ismail Elfath (USA)
(With input from agencies)