Japan vs. Croatia: Samurai Blue aiming to reach World Cup quarterfinals for first time

Japan players celebrate reaching the knockout stages after beating Spain.
CNN  — 

In a World Cup of surprises, Japan has played a leading role in headline-making shock results.

Not many would have predicted that the Samurai Blue would beat both Spain and Germany to top Group E in qualifying for the knockouts, but so impressive has the team been that not many would now raise an eyebrow if Japan was to progress to the quarterfinals for the first time in its history.

Japan plays 2018 finalist Croatia in the last 16 at the Al Janoub Stadium on Monday at 10 a.m. E.T. in the first of two last 16 games on the day, with the later match featuring tournament favorite Brazil and South Korea.

Croatia’s impressive World Cup record

First to the match in Al Wakrah. Croatia is a team undefeated in nine of its last 10 World Cup matches. Its only loss in that run coming in Russia four years ago when a Kylian Mbappé-inspired France secured a 4-2 win in the final.

Coach Zlatko Dalić told reporters Sunday that the country had performed brilliantly over the years and become a force in world football.

“The population of Croatia is four million and the results we have achieved on the world stage are miraculous,” said Dalić, per Reuters.

“We are continually present in tournaments and World Cups, and that itself is a great success. We have become a world football force.”

While Croatia, unbeaten in Qatar, has never lost in the last 16 in its previous two World Cup matches at this stage, Japan has never progressed beyond the round-of-16, suffering defeat in 2002, 2010 and 2018.