DOHA ( Associated Press) – Japan defender Uto Nakatomo asked his teammates to channel the samurai spirit Monday as they face Croatia in the last 16 of the World Cup.
And they will need another element that Nakatomo learned when he played in Italy for nearly a decade, mainly with Inter Milan.
“Coraggio,” said the 36-year-old defender. “We need to play with courage.”
Japan is in the knockout stage for the fourth time and will be trying to make it through for the first time. They came from behind to claim their 2–1 victories in the penultimate group stage against Germany and Spain, both world champions with stars on their jerseys. But they were dealt a blow in the second game when they lost 1–0 to Costa Rica.
The smallest nation in the round of 16 with a population of only 4 million, Croatia was runner-up four years earlier after losing the final to France, and came third in 1998.
Will a third chance be any better?
“Why not?” said Croatian coach Zlatko Dalic.
This is Nakatomo’s fourth World Cup and he clearly remembers how Japan took a 2-0 lead against Belgium in the Round of 16 in Russia four years ago, but after scoring in second-half injury time Was out 3-2.
“I haven’t forgotten,” Nakatomo said, invoking once again the samurai warriors as a metaphor for Japan’s campaign in this World Cup.
“Before going to war they prepare their weapons and try to improve their techniques,” he said. “But if they are afraid during a fight, they will not be able to use weapons and techniques properly.”
“This is a good opportunity to show the world how we can compete as samurai,” he said. “The question is, if we are afraid, we will not be able to do anything.”
Dalic said that the Croatian team has noticed this because they have seen many Japanese players in German football.
“They apply samurai philosophy to their games,” he said. “We will do our work. We know how important this match is for us. We know what the opponent is like. We know your mindset. We have to have the same mindset, the same attitude to go far”.
Croatia advanced with 0–0 draws against Belgium and Morocco and a 4–1 win over Canada.
The winner of Monday’s clash will face either Brazil or South Korea in the quarter-finals.