Carrying the hopes of entire Asia and following several upsets in the FIFA World Cup, Japan and South Korea are set to mount their Round of 16 challenge Monday.
Japan will face Croatia which means an overwhelming crowd support for them. However, it won’t be the case for South Korea as they are pitched against the mighty Brazil – a nation loved around the globe for their football skills and achievements.
Although the tournament has seen results Saudi Arabia defeating Argentina and the elimination of teams like Germany, Belgium and Denmark, there has been no surprise in the knockout stage so far with four matches out of eight Round of 16 matches already played.
Moreover, one of two African sides – Senegal – too is out now after losing to England 3-0 on Sunday with only Morocco left who would clash with Spain on Tuesday.
Japan vs Croatia
Japan have already stunned Germany and Spain, but on Tuesday, they come up against a Croatia side that might just be a little too streetwise for a mugging.
Croatia have not shown the quality that got them to the final in 2018, but did what they needed to do to get through their group, only showing any signs of panic in their last match against a desperate Belgium.
Captain Luka Modrić, who with Ivan Perišić and Dejan Lovren forms a high-class but ageing core to the team, says they fear no one, and they will have done their homework on the Samurai Blue.
Interestingly, three of Japan’s four goals at the World Cup have been scored by players who started on the bench, and substitute Mitoma played the pass that set up the fourth.
On their part, Croatia have reached the last 16 twice before out of their five previous visits to the World Cup finals. They won both those games, reaching the semi-finals in 1998 and losing to France in the final in Russia four years ago. That’s a fine record for a country that became an independent state in the early 1990s.
But Japan, by contrast, have never reached the quarterfinals. Previously, they played three the Round of 16 matches in their five previous tournaments but lost them all.
Brazil vs South Korea
Meanwhile. South Korea have a much tougher ask – defeating Brazil, the five times world champions. They are the second lowest-ranked side to make the knockout stage.
The star Brazil forward Neymar is set to play on Monday after recovering from an ankle injury. He had suffered the injury in Brazil’s opening 2-0 win over Serbia, which ruled him out of their 1-0 win over Switzerland and the shock defeat by Cameroon. Full-back Danilo was also cleared by the medical staff for the game against South Korea.
Meanwhile, the South Koreans will know that the odds are against them. Coach Paulo Bento’s side has recent experience of how chastening an experience it can be to take on Brazil. The teams met in a friendly in Seoul in June and Brazil romped to a 5-1 victory, with Neymar scoring two penalties.
They have pulled off their own surprise win too: Their tournament looked to be over until substitute Hwang Hee-chan popped up in injury time to score the winner in a 2-1 victory over already qualified Portugal on Friday.
On a positive note and as a sign of encouragement, South Korea are the only Asian side to have reached the semi-finals before, when they were co-hosts with Japan in 2002.