More than Croatia, the 'wall of the best 16' could be Japan's biggest obstacle in making history

1 month ago 20

DOHA, Qatar -- The circular of 16 astatine the FIFA World Cup is not unfamiliar territory for Japan.

In 5 erstwhile editions of the tournament, they person gotten this acold connected 3 occasions -- and arsenic precocious arsenic successful 2018.

The adjacent step, however, is unchartered ground. And that is what is making the Samurai Blue's last-16 necktie astatine Qatar 2022 connected Monday each the much intriguing.

Physically, it is an imposing Croatia outfit that basal successful their way.

As runners-up of the tourney backmost successful 2018 and boasting stellar names specified arsenic 2018 Ballon d'Or victor Luka Modric, Ivan Perisic and Mateo Kovacic, Croatia person to beryllium regarded arsenic genuine contenders.

While Zlatko Dalic's charges did not precisely occurrence connected each cylinders successful the radical stage, with their lone triumph a 4-1 triumph implicit Canada successful which they conceded the opener aft conscionable 67 seconds, they person proven to beryllium a pugnacious squad to interruption down.

Along with 0-0 draws against Morocco and Belgium, the Croatians person conceded conscionable 1 extremity truthful acold successful the tourney and the effect against the second illustrated their quality to grind retired immoderate effect they needed to get the occupation done and beforehand to the knockout round.

Croatia volition caput into the necktie arsenic favourites. That is for definite and it astir apt volition not fuss Japan that much.

After all, they were besides underdogs successful their sensational group-stage wins implicit Germany and Spain.

Perhaps the bigger obstacle to the Samurai Blue making past and reaching the past 8 is not the absorption physically squaring up to them, but the doubts -- adjacent demons -- lurking successful their minds.

Mentally, the top trial could beryllium overcoming what Japan defender Yuto Nagatomo has called "the partition of the champion 16".

An intangible obstruction that each erstwhile procreation has failed to overcome, adjacent erstwhile they person boasted icons similar Hidetoshi Nakata, Shunsuke Nakamura and Keisuke Honda.

Speaking astatine Sunday's pre-match quality conference, Nagatomo called connected his teammates to harness the tone of the Samurai and amusement the courageousness indispensable to marque the astir of the weapons they possess.

But it was a tweet from earlier successful the time from the fullback -- poignant and poetic but a warfare outcry astatine the aforesaid clip -- that champion summed up the interior conflict the Japanese are up against.

"The partition of the champion 16. A partition that has stood successful the mode of Japanese shot and my shot life," wrote Nagatomo.

"How overmuch blood, sweat tears person been shed to flooded this wall? It's clip to interruption down the walls that person been torturing -- and driving -- us.

"Be brave. Let america each spot the caller scenery."

The caller scenery Nagatomo was referring to? The presumption from the quarterfinals of the World Cup for the archetypal clip ever.

First, determination are a mates of obstacles they indispensable overcome. Croatia, and arguably much importantly, the "wall of the champion 16".

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