Belgium takes on Japan in their 2018 FIFA World Cup round-of-16 clash as the Red Devils look to continue their winning run in Russia and enter the quarterfinals.
Belgium are one of only three teams at this 2018 FIFA World Cup who won all three of their group games en route to the round-of-16 phase where they now meet the ‘lucky’ Japanese side as both teams look to make it to the quarterfinals stage.
Belgium have been in good form at both ends of the pitch in Russia and duly showed their prowess after scoring 9-goals and conceding only two so far in the competition. Belgium have always carried the reputation of being the dark horses in any major tournaments, and these are games they need to prove a point and keep advancing.
Japan, on the other hand, are by far the luckiest team at the World Cup, entering the round-of-16 stage based on their good behaviour on the pitch. Senegal and Japan both finished level on points and goal difference in Group H but, the Japanese have received fewer yellow cards went through on Fair Play rules. The Japanese will be eager to qualify by testing the Belgians at the fullest.
Team News & Tactics
Belgium, reportedly have a full-strength squad at their disposal, and Roberto Martinez will obviously name his most robust possible lineup to face Japan. Belgian defenders Thomas Vermaelen and Vincent Kompany are back in the frame and are match fit again after uncertainty with their fitness right from the start of the tournament.
After being benched for the England game due to an injury or knock, Romelu Lukaku could also make his comeback against Japan as he eyes the golden boot with four goals already in Russia. Belgium’s goalscorer against England, Adnan Januzaj is likely to be relegated to the bench once more as other prominent first-team starters return to the side.
Roberto Martinez would be pleased with himself to have rested key players in Kevin De Bruyne, Eden Hazard, Dries Mertens and Axel Witsel for the England clash and is ready to welcome them all back into the side to face Japan. Martinez will, however, make a late call to include Kompany in his lineup as he seems happy with the current options he used for the group stages.
Potential Starting-XI (3-4-2-1) – Courtois; Alderweireld, Boyata, Vertonghen; Meunier, De Bruyne, Witsel, Carrasco; Hazard, Mertens; Lukaku
Akira Nishino will be thanking his and the team’s stars for the triumphant entry into the knockout rounds of the World Cup, but he will do all he can to ensure they progress further. Against Belgium, he has as many as four first-team stars to call back into the side and put in a strong starting lineup.
Nishino took a gamble with his squad selection for the last group game against Poland and rested Shinji Kagawa, Yuya Osako, Takashi Inui and Keisuke Honda. All of those four players are primed to be back into the side, although
Nishino will still take a late call on Honda’s involvement from the start. The midfielder has played only 38′ minutes of World Cup football so far in the three games.
Potential Starting-XI (4-2-3-1) – Kawashima; Sakai, Shoji, Yoshida, Nagatomo; Hasebe, Shibasaki; Haraguchi, Kagawa, Inui; Osako
- Belgium only have one win in their five games till date against Japan.
- The teams have only one World Cup meeting back in the group stages of the 2002 edition in a game that ended 2-2.
- Belgium are yet to keep a clean sheet in their 11-knockout games in World Cup history and have lost eight of those games.
- Japan have never progressed beyond the round-of-16 stage in their World Cup history
- Keisuke Honda has had a hand in seven Japan’s last 10-goals at World Cups, scoring four and assisting three.
Player to Watch
There are many stars capable of leading the Belgian charge against Japan. Kevin De Bruyne is yet to make a full mark on this World Cup, while Romelu Lukaku is already chasing the Golden Boot, but among all of them, the focus again will be on Eden Hazard.
After a somewhat quiet first game against Panama, Hazard exploded onto the World cup scene with a two-goal performance against Tunisia and is set to continue on that form in a stage that now really matters concerning reaching the quarterfinals. He was however rested against England is set to be fresh at best to play a significant role against Japan and help Belgium in their quest for a first World Cup title.
Belgium 3-1 Japan
On paper, this tie looks all but over for Japan. Belgium has quality, far more superior to that of Japan in all departments of the pitch, from goalkeeping to attack. But we have seen plenty of shocks at various World Cup editions, and the Russia one hasn’t been any different.
Belguim have looked like a team with a real plan and strategy, which is designed to take them as far as possible in the tournament. They will consider Japan as a tough opponent and try to win this game with the sheer quality they have among their players on the pitch, In the end, we predict a comfortable win for Belgium. However, anything could happen in the knockout stages of a World Cup.