Goalkeeper Dominik Livakovic was the hero, saving three penalties in the shootout as Croatia edged past Japan after a 1-1 draw to reach the quarter-finals of the World Cup.
Livakovic fended off the first two efforts before stopping Maya Yoshida’s kick, then Mario Pasalic converted the vital effort to pass his side.
Zlatko Dalic’s side, beaten in the final by France four years ago, will face tournament favorites Brazil or South Korea in the next round on Friday (15:00 GMT).
Japan were the livelier team and took a deserved lead two minutes before half-time when Celtic striker Daizen Maeda converted after Yoshida was knocked down.
Croatia equalized in the second half through Ivan Perisic’s brilliant header from Dejan Lovren’s cross, becoming his country’s all-time leading scorer in major tournaments with 10 goals.
Neither side could find a breakthrough and the game went on for another 30 minutes, with Brighton midfielder Kaoru Mitoma’s spectacular strike denied by Livakovic.
At the other end, Marko Livaja’s graze header seemed to go on a loop, but Shuichi Gonda managed to collect and Lovro Majer trailed a shot in the 120th minute.
The contest ended in nerve-wracking penalties where Livakovic became the man to lead Croatia’s celebrations.