Perisic provides platform for Livakovic heroics

As befits a man with 'Hen' as his moniker, Ivan Perisic continues to produce on a regular basis.

With Croatia behind and struggling to cope with Japan's verve and superior technique in this last 16 clash in Doha, Zlatko Dalic's men needed a hero. Step forward Perisic once again. The Tottenham man moved purposefully to get on the end of Dejan Lovren's 55th-minute cross and plant a header past Shuichi Gonda in the Japan goal.

At 1-1, it finally gave Croatia a platform on which to build, although that's not to say the 2018 runners-up suddenly turned on the style, far from it.

To extra-time and a penalty shoot-out it went, of course it did. Seven of the last eight knockout games involving Croatia at major tournaments have gone beyond 90 minutes, the exception being the 2018 final against France in Moscow.

And Croatia prevailed, of course they did. They have a 100 per cent record in the three World Cup games that have gone at least to extra-time.

Dominik Livakovic was the hero in the shoot-out, saving efforts from Takumi Minamino, Kaoru Mitoma and Maya Yoshida as Japan's remarkable run came to an underwhelming conclusion.

Livakovic was predictably named man of the match but no Perisic, no party.

Ivan Perisic
Ivan Perisic

It was a record-breaking goal for the 33-year-old who is now Croatia's leading scorer at major tournaments (World Cups and European Championships) after edging ahead of Davor Suker's tally of nine.

Even more impressively, Perisic has now been directly involved in 10 goals (six goals and four assists) in the World Cup. Only Lionel Messi (12) and Kylian Mbappe (11) can boast better numbers since the Croatian's competition debut in 2014.

Unlike France and Argentina, Croatia are not free scoring. That impression was underlined at Al Janoub Stadium in a first half in which Dalic's side failed miserably to get out of first gear.

Japan were sharper all over the field, particularly in midfield where Croatia's heralded double act of Luka Modric and Mateo Kovacic were made to look pedestrian.

At 29 years and 330 days, Croatia began the game with the oldest starting XI in a World Cup knockout game since France against Italy in the 2006 final. It showed.

Perhaps surprisingly, it was from wide areas that Japan carved out the bulk of their chances.

Shogo Taniguchi ought to have opened the scoring just three minutes in but mistimed his header from a Wataru Endo cross. Eleven minutes later, Daizen Maeda failed to convert an inviting cross from the impressive Junya Ito.

The goal also came via that route, Ritsu Doan whipping in a devilish delivery from the right that Yoshida failed to convert but the ball fell beautifully for Maeda to fire gleefully home just before half-time.

Croatia were wobbling and the break came at the right time.

Perisic dragged them level and finally the momentum started to shift. Modric saw a fizzing shot tipped over by Gonda, Ante Budimir headed wastefully wide and Perisic saw a rising drive clip Takehiro Tomiyasu on its way past the left upright.

Extra-time was uneventful before Livakovic took centre stage, making three superb saves, to send his side through and leave Japan beaten.

Next up for him, the Hen and Croatia is a clash with Brazil or South Korea.