Belgium will start as favourites when they tackle Japan in a 2018 World Cup last 16 clash at Rostov Arena on Monday, July 2, kick-off at 20h00 CAT.
Belgium cruised through Group G, topping the standings thanks to big wins over Panama (3-0) and Tunisia (5-2) before their second-string team edged England’s second-string team 1-0 on the final night of first-round games.
Roberto Martinez’s side has shown flashes of brilliance, but there’s a sense that they can still go up a gear or two, and fans of the ‘Red Devils’ will hope the challenge offered by knockout football brings the best out of them.
Belgium boasts world-class talent throughout their line-up, but their key men are forwards Romelu Lukaku and Eden Hazard. The former, who is a slight injury concern, has the bulldozing power to dominate Japan’s defence, while the latter will look to his speed and skill to cut the Asian side open.
Japan is certainly the luckiest team through the last 16 – they finished with exactly the same record as Senegal in Group H, but were ranked above the African side on fair play points and joined pool winners Colombia in advancing.
The ‘Samurai Blue’ is far from the most gifted team left in the tournament, but they make up for their shortcomings with mobility, determination and discipline. They are not to be underestimated, though they definitely enter this game as underdogs.
For Japan, defenders Maya Yoshida and Gen Shoji will have to be at their best, while attackers Shinji Kagawa and veteran Keisuke Honda may feed off scraps if Belgium dominates possession, but have the class to create danger when the ball comes their way.
Belgium VS Japan
In head-to-head terms, Belgium and Japan have met in five matches, according to FIFA’s statistics database. The ‘Samurai Blue’ has claimed two wins compared to one for the ‘Red Devils’, while two games have been drawn.
The teams have clashed in one World Cup match, a Group H encounter in Saitama in 2002 which ended 2-2, while their most recent game overall was a friendly in Bruges in November last year – the ‘Red Devils’ won 1-0 thanks to a goal from Lukaku.
Belgium’s greater talent and physical power make them the clear pick for a win in this match, with Japan’s only hope coming through defensive discipline and looking to hit on the break.
Belgium v Japan – head-to-head
Matches played 5
Belgium wins 1
Japan wins 2
Belgium goals 5
Japan goals 9