Japan vs Croatia Odds, Pick, Preview

Japan vs Croatia Odds, Pick, Preview article feature image

Koji Watanabe/Getty. Pictured: Ao Tanaka.

Japan vs. Croatia Odds

Monday, Dec. 5
10 a.m. ET
Japan Odds+300
Croatia Odds+100
Over/Under2.5 (+120 / -150)
Both Teams to Score (Yes/No)(+100 / -134)
Odds via bet365. Get up-to-the-minute World Cup odds here.

Through the first four matches of the round of 16, there's been relatively little drama. All four of the bigger favorites — the Netherlands, Argentina, France and England — advanced to the quarterfinals without ever trailing.

All four led by two goals at one point in the second half. Sunday's match between Japan and Croatia is the most even matchup on paper and in the betting markets.

Neither side is seen as a true contender to lift the World Cup on December 18, but both have a golden opportunity at a quarterfinal appearance. Japan needed a second half comeback against Spain just to get out of their group as the winner, while Croatia survived a late Belgium onslaught and many Romelu Lukaku misses to finish second in Group F.

Croatia have the more talented side on paper, but that hasn't stopped Japan before. The Samurai Blue have already upset possession dominant sides Germany and Spain. Can they pull off another mild upset?

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Japan a Dangerous Side Thanks to Tactics

Japan's ability to strike quickly in transition when they win the ball off of their opponents makes them a dangerous underdog in this tournament. Getting matchups with Spain and Germany — two possession-dominant teams that are vulnerable immediately after losing the ball — helped them to get out of that group as an underdog.

They don't match up nearly as well with teams like France or England that are much safer in possession and don't commit many numbers forward.

Japanese manager Hajime Moriyasu came under fire for his decision to rotate a lot of his top attackers against Costa Rica when they lost that match, but now it might pay off for Japan, who are much less likely to run out of gas in this match against Croatia.

They sat deeper and absorbed pressure for the first half of both matches against Germany and Spain. Once Ritsu Doan and Kaoru Mitoma came on at halftime, you saw Japan's defensive press at work. The second goal may have been a bit of a fluke in how it played out, but they really troubled the Spanish attack as soon as Rodri or Pau Torres attempted to bring the ball into the Japanese half.

The result was 18% possession for Japan — remarkably low for a winning side — but Spain managed just 1.1 xG in the match.

Wow. #ESPpic.twitter.com/rmyLaYFkue

— Between The Posts (@BetweenThePosts) December 1, 2022

This passing map is a perfect example of what happened to the Spanish attack against Japan. Pedri, Gavi and Busquets weren't able to pass forward and link with the attack. All of the possession was forced to be recycled and that's a very repeatable game plan for Japan in this match.

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Croatia Don't Have the Fire Power They Once Did

Croatia had a stellar transition performance against a Canadian team that pushed numbers forward and frequently lost its shape once the ball was lost.

That afforded Croatia's midfield and wide players a ton of space to tear up the Canadian defense. The performance was quite impressive, but Croatia as a whole were quite average in the group stage. They finished with an even xG difference with 3.8 xG and 3.8 xGA. The defense was quite fortunate to not concede more — especially in the second half against Belgium.

Romelu Lukaku had chance after chance to bury Croatia's tournament chances and it was the only good half that Belgium played all tournament. This match should play out somewhat similarly to the Morocco match for Croatia. In that match, Croatia weren't able to generate any real space for wide players to beat defenders one-on-one.

The main striker — Andrej Kramaric — isn't a threat to run in behind and needs the ball to be played into his feet to be impactful. The forwards still lack elite quality and are significantly worse than the players Japan just defended on Germany and Spain.

While the Japanese penalty area was under assault in the match against Germany, Croatia's attackers aren't of the quality to outclass the Japan defense. When they haven't been able to thrive in transition, Croatia's attack hasn't looked all that impressive in Qatar.

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Japan vs. Croatia Pick

All of the favorites have rolled thus far, but Japan are a live underdog on Monday.

Japan have sustained attacks from much better attacking teams in this tournament and still managed to create a handful of transition opportunities at the other end.

This game could become a bit of a stalemate until the first goal is scored. Croatia will control the majority of the possession and will be probing the wide areas to try and sustain attacks on Japan's defense.

If Moriyasu plays a more passive lineup in the first half, you could see this game open up once Doan, Mitoma and other more direct attackers challenge this Croatian backline. Until then, however, neither side will be taking a ton of chances.

The longer this match remains a stalemate, the more I like the underdog to at least get this into extra time. And if Japan do go down in this match, they've shown how capable they are of rescuing results against better sides.

I'll play Japan +0.5 at -130 or better and will be sprinkling to advance at +150 or better.

The Pick: Japan +0.5 (-120)

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