Belgium are set to face Japan in their round-of-16 clash this evening and as we see it this game’s outcomes could be decided by a few key battles on the pitch.
Belgium are on song, having won all three games at the 2018 FIFA World Cup so far. They now face the challenge of the ‘lucky’ Japanese, who stands between them and a place in the quarterfinals. Belgium are in a footballing phase which everyone regards as the golden generation of their nation, but time and again this generation had failed when they were least expected to.
But this time around, Belgium are genuinely looking like the team to beat in Russia, and they are very much expected to surpass the Japanese side in their knockout round clash. But the World Cup is such an unpredictable tournament that anything can indeed happen and the biggest of teams can falter, as we saw in the last few days.
Japan have a side capable of causing damage to this Belgian side, but the Red Devils have the ultimate superiority in quality by their team over the Japanese. In the end, though, this clash will be decided by some critical battles on the pitch when they both face-off, and we explore which these battles in little detail.
Eden Hazard vs Yuto Nagatomo
Yuto Nagatomo has had a decent World Cup so far and would be thanking his stars for the way Japan have qualified for the knockout stages. His best game so far has been against Senegal, where he played a good enough role to earn his side an excellent 2-2 draw with the Africans. It was during this tie that he actually faced a tricky opponent in Ismaila Sarr, but won his battle with the Senegalese star.
On Monday he faces a much bigger battle against the formidable Eden Hazard, who was only warming up for this stage during the group games. His last appearance came against Tunisia where he starred on the pitch with two goals and indeed announced his arrival at this World Cup.
He too will be wary of Nagatomo and knows this opponent could catch him blindly for pace and trickery. This could turn out to be an exciting battle, as Hazard has been seen switching sides more often than not on the pitch.
Romelu Lukaku vs Maya Yoshida
Romelu Lukaku indeed is in the mood at this world cup, with scoring four goals already in his two games for Belgium. It could well be argued that those opponents weren’t of the first quality, while some are suggesting he could struggle when facing a much bigger opponent later in the tournament.
Japan cannot accurately be called a great opponent but certainly a strong one. Lukaku’s integrity to play a prominent role in top matches is set to be tested, and a round-of-16 clash is definitely a big game from all angles irrespective of the quality or stature of the opponent. His biggest battle will be to upstage the experience of Maya Yoshida at the back of the Japanese defence.
Yoshida has had a good World Cup so far, as Japan came through their group and into the knockout phase. Against Belgium, he will be tasked with the somewhat arduous task of holding his own against the in-form Romelu Lukaku. This battle could determine the result for both sides, but we’ll have to wait and watch to see who wins this one.