Japan has been a driving force behind several shocking outcomes that have made headlines during this year's World Cup.
There are not many people who would have predicted that the Samurai Blue would defeat both Spain and Germany to top Group E in qualifying for the knockouts.
But the team has been so impressive that there are not many people who would now raise an eyebrow if Japan was to progress to the quarterfinals for the first time in the history of the tournament.
At the Al Janoub Stadium on Monday, the day's first of two matches in the round of 16 will begin at 10 a.m. E.T. and will feature a match between tournament favorite Brazil and South Korea.
The second match will take place later in the day and will feature Japan playing 2018 champion Croatia.
Al Wakrah's first player to enter the arena. The current World Cup champions, Croatia, are a team that has won all nine of their most recent World Cup matches.
Its only loss during that run came in Russia, four years ago, when France won the World Cup final with a 4-2 score behind the inspiration of Kylian Mbappé.
Sunday, the national team's coach, Zlatko Dali, addressed the media and remarked on the country's remarkable rise to prominence as a competitive force in international football.
We are continually present in tournaments and World Cups, and that itself is a great success. We have become a world footballforce. The population of Croatia is four million and the results we have achieved on the world stage are miraculous.- Dalić The memory of Japan's loss to Belgium four years ago, when they let a 2-0 lead slip away and lost to a goal scored in stoppage time, will drive the playersto perform better this time, according to the defender Yuto Nagatomo.
I have never forgotten about that battle against Belgium. Sometimes, scenes from the match suddenly come back to me and the last four years have been very tough. But I think we have grown mentally as well as physically and … as far as I can see, this team is the best and the strongest that has ever competed for Japan at the World Cup.- Yuto Nagatomo
Previous encounters between these two nations may be able to provide us with some insight into what might take place on Monday.
Since 1997, they have competed against one another three times, with Japan prevailing over Croatia in a friendly match by a score of 4-3 but falling to Croatia in the group stage of the tournament held in France in 1998.
Both teams played to a scoreless draw during the World Cup that was held in Germany in 2006.
The sports data company Gracenote projects that Croatia has a 58% chance of emerging victorious from this contest, while Japan's chances are currently pegged at 42%.
On paper, the other knockout game of the day pits five-time world champions Brazil against South Korea at Doha's 974 Stadium.
Despite losing 1-0 to Cameroon in their final group game, Brazil remains strong favorites to advance to the quarterfinals, where either Japan or Croatia await.
With a place in the knockout stages already secured, coach Tite made nine changes to the side that defeated Switzerland 1-0, which could be blamed for the country's first defeat by an African nation at a World Cup. However, this should not be used to diminish Cameroon's performance.
South Korea advanced to the Round of 16 after a dramatic 2-1 comeback win over Portugal, with Hwang Hee-chan scoring the game-winning goal in extra time. The Taegeuk Warriors had only won one of their previous 11 World Cup games.
However, victory for South Korea would be historic this time, especially since star striker Neymaris expected to return from an ankle injury.
However, the tournament favorites have suffered a string of key player injuries in Qatar, with Alex Telles unavailable at full-back due to a knee injury suffered against Cameroon Brazil.
Telles and striker Gabriel Jesus were ruled out of the tournament by the Brazilian FA on Saturday, and it's unclear when regular full-backs Danilo and Alex Sandro will recover from their injuries.
Croatia is a team that relies heavily on possession, which could work to Japan's advantage given that it defeated Germany and Spain despite having 17.7% and 26.1% possession, respectively.
They will apply the samurai warrior philosophy. So will we. If we want to go further, we must apply that same attitude, do our best and never underestimate anyone. Japan have the least ball possession in the world, but they make great transition. This is the most perseverant, persistent opponent. They simply do not give up. We have a similar mentality, Japan and Croatia. We stand on equal ground.- Dalić