After beating Germany in the team's opener, Japan worked their way into the Round of 16 of the World Cup on Thursday by defeating Spain 2-1 – the same margin by which they pipped the four-time world champions.
Japan scored twice early in the second half to come from behind and defeat another European powerhouse and make it to the knockout stage for the second straight World Cup.
This is the first time Japan has advanced past the group stage in back-to-back tournaments.
“For Asia and for Japan, our victories over Spain and Germany, two of the top teams in the world, is something that give us great confidence and we are very pleased,” Japan coach Hajime Moriyasu said. “Of course, there are many things we still have to learn, but Asia can win in the world stage, Japan can win in the world stage.”
Japan were beaten in the last 16 of the World Cup in the 2002, 2010 and 2018 editions of the tournament. But Maya Yoshida is determined to reach the quarter finals for the first time in their history by overcoming Croatia. “It will be a new chapter in Japanese history so we have to be focused on one more game yet,” the Schalke centre half said.
“We knew it would be really difficult, with Germany and Spain playing each other. We knew we’d have to win but this is what it’s like at the World Cup where everything is possible, everything can be possible.
“I’m very happy for the great comeback spirit mentality as a team and I’m very happy for that. But our target is still to win the next game.”
A debate has raged over whether the ball had gone out of play before Kaoru Mitoma crossed for Tanaka’s goal and Yoshida admits he was praying during a long Var review that the goal would stand.
“It was such a long time. Mama Mia! It was such a long time,” he said. “I was praying all of the time and after that we focused on what we needed next. We looked at the clock and there was still such a long time to go.”
When is the match?
The match is on Monday December 5.
What time is kick-off?
The match will kick off at the Al Janoub Stadium at 3pm (GMT), 6pm local time.
What TV channel is it on?
The match will be shown on either BBC or ITV. Telegraph Sport will also be running a live blog on the game – you can bookmark this page now and return on Monday to follow along with our coverage.
How have Japan fared so far?
Japan pulled off two remarkable victories in the group stages to top Group E: against four-time Champions Germany and the 2010 winners Spain.
They have shown their giant-killing pedigree, coming back from 1-0 down against both sides, although the match against Spain wasn't without controversy with the ball appearing to go out of play before the final cross for Japan's winner.
Despite these two monumental wins, Japan somehow choked against tournament outsiders Costa Rica, losing 1-0 to the side which was drubbed 7-0 by Spain on the fourth day of the tournament.
How have Croatia got on?
Croatia are unbeaten in the tournament so far – and have only shipped one goal – finishing runners up in Group F after goalless draws against Morocco and Croatia and a convincing 4-1 win over Canada.
Morocco cemented a dark horse status of this tournament after beating both Belgium and Canada to finish top.
Japan vs Croatia results history?
Japan and Croatia have met each other three times – twice at the World Cup (1998 and 2006), and once in the Kirin Japan Cup.
The head-to-head record is finely balanced: Japan won the first encounter 4-3 in 1997, Croatia won the second at the 1998 World Cup 1-0, and they drew 0-0 in the 2006 World Cup.
What is Japan's World Cup record?
Japan have qualified for seven World Cups (including Qatar), not missing one since their debut in 1998 and have now made the last 16 in four of these – but they've never progressed to the quarter finals.
They are four-time AFC Asian Cup champions.
What is Croatia’s World Cup record?
Croatia have qualified for all but one World Cup (2010) that they have been a Fifa member, reaching the semi-finals in 1998 before going one better in Russia in 2018, but losing 4-2 to France at the final hurdle.
In 2002, 2006 and 2014, they went out in the group stages.
At the Uefa European Championship, Croatia have reached the knockout stages in four out of seven of the tournaments they've been eligible for, getting to the quarter finals twice (1996 and 2008).
Japan to win: 6/4
Croatia to win: 1/2