DOHA, Qatar (AP) — Japan defender Yuto Nakatomo has told his teammates they’ll need to show “samurai spirit” in Monday’s round-of-16 match against Croatia at the World Cup.
And they’ll need another quality that Nakatomo learned playing for almost a decade in Italy, mostly with Inter Milan.
“Coraggio,” Nakatomo said. “We need to play with courage.”
Japan is appearing in the knockout stage for the fourth time and still searching for its first win. It rallied in group play to beat both Germany and Spain 2-1 — two former world champions — but also stumbled to a 1-0 loss against Costa Rica.
Croatia, the smallest country in the final 16 with a population of only 4 million, was the runner-up four years ago against France and finished third in 1998.
Could the third time be the charm?
“Why not,” said Croatia coach Zlatko Dalic.
This is Nakatomo’s fourth World Cup, and he recalls how Japan led Belgium 2-0 in a round of 16 match four years ago in Russia, but was eliminated 3-2 on a goal scored late in second-half stoppage time.
“I have never forgotten,” Nakatomo said, returning to the subject of Japanese samurai warriors as a metaphor for Japan’s World Cup campaign.
“They try to improve their techniques,” he said. “But if they are scared during the battle they will not be able to use their weapons and techniques fully.”
Croatia coach Dalic said his team will be well prepared; they have seen many Japan players in action in the German league.
“They will apply the samurai philosophy in their game,” he said. “We will also do our part. We know how important this match is for us. We know who the opponent is. We know their mentality. If we want to go father we must apply that same standard, that same attitude.”
Croatia advanced with 0-0 draws against Belgium and Morocco, and a 4-1 victory over Canada.
The winner Monday faces either five-time champion Brazil or South Korea in the quarterfinals.
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