Soccer-Japan's smash and grab raiders come up against Croatian class

FILE PHOTO: Soccer Football - FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 - Group E - Japan v Spain - Khalifa International Stadium, Doha, Qatar - December 2, 2022 Japan fans celebrate outside the stadium after the match as Japan qualify for the knockout stages REUTERS/Issei Kato

DOHA (Reuters) - Japan's sensational smash-and-grab raids at the World Cup have already seen off Germany and Spain, but in the last 16 on Tuesday they come up against a Croatia side who might just be a little too streetwise for a mugging.

Croatia have not shown the quality that got them to the final four years ago, especially in front of goal, 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 Luca Modric, who with Ivan Perisic 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.

Japan coach Hajime Moriyasu might need to produce something new tactically for the clash at the Al Janoub Stadium, having taken a similar approach to their first three games.

Inviting teams onto them for 45 minutes then switching to a more offensive formation and trying to snatch goals on the break worked perfectly against Spain and Germany but was a bust in Japan's loss to lowly Costa Rica.

Croatia, if anything, have patience and will happily stroke the ball around in front of the Japan defence probing for weaknesses without, perhaps, getting frustrated as Spain and Germany did.

They probably also have the technical smarts to make adjustments themselves when Moriyasu finally shows his hand with the switch to a back three and the introduction of pacy forwards like Kaoru Mitoma and Ritsu Doan.

Moriyasu will have to make at least one change in his defence after Ko Itakura picked up a second yellow card against Spain, and injury clouds hang over his potential replacements Hiroki Sakai and Takehiro Tomiyasu.

Croatia, who mixed two 0-0 draws with a 4-1 thrashing of Canada in the group stage, have never lost a last 16 match when they have made it out of the group in five visits to the World Cup finals.

They got to the semi-finals in 1998 and lost to France in the final four years ago in Russia, a fine record for a country which only returned to international football in the early 1990s.

Japan, by contrast, have played three last 16 matches in their six previous tournaments but lost them all.

Charged with confidence after breakthrough wins over two former world champions, the Samurai Blue will certainly not stint in effort as they look to make a little more history for their country in Qatar.

(Reporting by Nick Mulvenney, Editing by Hugh Lawson)

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