As second-half stoppage time came to an end in the Round of 16 match between Japan and Croatia in Qatar’s 2022 World Cup, which stood at 1-1, Croatian coach, Zlatko Dalic, took a gamble. He subbed out his stars Luka Modric and Mateo Kovacic, and at halftime of extra time he took out Ivan Perisic. Now, of all his standard-bearing stars only Marcelo Brozovic remained. Dalic then used all six of his allowed subs to bring in fresh legs, but mostly offensive players.
The first half had seen Japan flip their script and come out pressing and attacking at the starting whistle and it worked, they pulled ahead in the 43rd minute, off the eighth dangerous cross into the Croatian box which Daizen Maeda blasted in from close range. Dalic did not panic, and his team’s only sub was for the ineffective and clearly off-his-game Bruno Petkovic—though his replacement, Ante Budimir, was equally ineffective and got subbed out later in the match.
Sticking with his veterans and counting on them to come up with a response worked for Dalic as in the 55th minute Ivan Perisic scored one of the cup’s best-headed goals to bring the sides even. Though both teams had opportunities to pull ahead afterward the rhythm decreased around the 75th minute as it seemed the Japanese had worn themselves out and the Croatian starters began to feel the strain of not having a deep bench. Both teams were ok with a draw at full-time.
When the extra time ended 1-1, despite some attempts by both teams to win it during that added half an hour, the game went to penalties.
In the ensuing shootout, Croatian keeper Dominik Livakovic saved three penalties while Brozovic and two attacking midfielders—Mario Pasalic and Nikola Vlasic—scored theirs. Croatia, saved by Dalic and Livakovic, moves on to the quarterfinals to meet the winner of the South Korea v Brazil match to be played later today.
For that quarterfinal, Dalic will have Modri, Kovacic, and Perisic available on legs that will have played but a few minutes past regulation time. Japanese coach, Hajime Moriyasu, will replay the game’s video back home and see his reflection in Dalic.
We have now witnessed Dalic, Moriyazu twice, and Louis van Gaal, play major positive roles in their teams’ progression to the quarterfinals, and Hansi Flick, Didier Deschamps, Fernando Santos, Tite, Gregg Berhalter, and Luis Enrique, make some mistakes of varying degrees of cost to their teams. With South Korea, Morocco, and Switzerland the underdogs in their upcoming Round of 16 matches, with young Spain a bit down, and with Portugal and Brazil trying to recover their rhythms, coaching decisions will play a major role in which remaining teams progress into the quarterfinals. Roster changes and in-game substitutions, starting lineups, personnel, and territorial tactics, the ability to react to an opponent’s tactics in real-time, and teams’ overall strategies will loom larger later today and tomorrow in Qatar’s 2022 World Cup.
Photo: Croatian keeper Dominik Livakovic, Shutterstock ID: 2191272625, by Alizada Studios