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Japan v Croatia Preview: Croatia could have too much

Japan's brand of free-flowing attacking football has lit up the World Cup in Qatar but they face a different challenge against Croatia on Monday.

Vatreni reached the final four years ago in Russia and, while they are a team in transition, play with a defensive discipline which has been lacking from the likes of Spain and Germany in this tournament thus far.

The Samurai Blue came from behind to beat both of those sides 2-1 on their way to topping Group E, and are chasing their first-ever World Cup quarter-final appearance.

Croatia finished second behind Morocco in Group F but the way they control games, most notably in midfield, gives off the impression that this is another tournament in which they are in it for the long haul.

History on Croatia's side

What: Japan v Croatia

Where: Al Janoub Stadium, Al Wakrah

When: 15:00, Monday 5th December

How to watch: BBC1

Odds: Japan 3/1, Draw 9/4, Croatia 1/1

Still a relatively new nation, Croatia have an excellent World Cup record and have avoided defeat in their two previous visits to the Round of 16.

This is the fourth time Japan have made the knockouts but they have never progressed any further than the last 16, most recently spurning a two-goal lead in a 3-2 defeat to Belgium in 2018.

The manner in which Croatia controlled long stretches of their 0-0 draws against Morocco and Belgium, either side of blowing Canada away 4-1, hints at a side primed for knockout football and they are 8/15 To Qualify, with the Samurai Blue 6/4.

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Unlike Germany and Spain, Vatreni appear to have the requisite defensive discipline not to concede twice and Japan are 7/5 to score exactly one goal.

With the trio of Mateo Kovacic, Marcelo Brozovic and exceptional captain Luka Modric patrolling the midfield, Croatia will take some stopping in Qatar.

Japan need to play with penetration

However, there is also an argument to be made for Croatia/Japan in the Half Time/ Full Time market. That was the case in both of their remarkable wins over Germany and Spain and is a potential value effort at 33/1.

Their successes against Hansi Flick and Luis Enrique's charges were impressive, but it is worth noting that in the one game they were required to dictate the play against Costa Rica, they struggled to a 1-0 defeat.

Croatia are unlikely to be as defensive as Los Ticos but they will be happy to stand their ground and build through midfield via their expert engine room trio.

In attack, they lack a bonafide top-class striker, although Andrej Kramaric has impressed in Qatar with two goals.

Kramaric is 12/5 as an Anytime Goalscorer and may find his chances limited due to his team's tactics.

That may change if Japan start well at Al Wakrah. An early goal for Hajime Moriyasu's men will bring the game to life and they are 13/8 to Score First. However, they will need to find a more possession-based style of play that has been lacking so far in Qatar.

Croatia control

In fact, one goal might be enough for Croatia and they will be happy to take their chances when presented.

A 1-0 Correct Score for Zlatko Dalic's side is 6/1, and this has the feeling of a game where they will be happy to control proceedings.

Croatia are 11/4 in the Winning Margin market to win by a single goal and that would be light relief having gone to extra time in all three of their knockout games four years ago before losing 4-2 in the final against France.

Zlatko Dalic's may not have as many big names as four years ago but are a fabulous unit that know how to get the job done and a Draw - Croatia result is 4/1.

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