Japan could be through to the last 16 but they remain the rank outsiders to win the championship and it might be a huge upset if they conquer Belgium here. The Red Devils will expect to advance to the last eight plus it might just be then when we get a true idea of whether Belgium are real contenders or are going to come up short against the other elite groups.
On paper they have been very impressive under Roberto Martinez, unbeaten because a friendly defeat to Spain in his very first game in charge nearly two decades back. But they have chosen to avoid playing the big teams in friendlies, came via a relatively feeble qualifying group and three matches to the 2018 World Cup, we’re still not really any wiser as to how they’ll form up against the top sides.
Easy wins over Panama and Tunisia followed what was little more than a’B’ Team’ game against England which will have taught Martinez little he did not already know. The exact same could be the case here with Belgium enormously superior on paper and using a plethora of players to return in to the side with new legs.
Japan’s progress to the previous sixteen was possibly the least glorious in the history of this contest. Their sole group win came from a Colombian side that played with 10 men for 87 minutes. They ultimately progressed thanks to some superior Fair Perform album to Senegal, with a farcical ending to their final game with Poland effectively viewing Japan prevent yellow cards and settle for a 1-0 defeat at the expectation that Senegal wouldn’t level against Colombia.
It was a gamble that paid off but trainer Akira Nishino can not be proud of his side improved and there’s over a part of irony they made it through on Fair Play, whilst at precisely the same time possibly bringing the match and even the whole tournament into disrepute. You may know it to some extent but it speaks volumes that Nishino had more religion in Colombia seeing off Senegal than in his own team’s chances of accomplishing a goal that would have guaranteed progress against an underwhelming Poland side.
It’s difficult to make any kind of situation for Japan here. They’ve lost their last 5 matches against European opposition, among which was a favorable with Belgium last year. To give them a bit of credit, they performed pretty well in their second group game against Senegal and played some good football but against a side of Belgium’s caliber, they are likely to fall short in most sections.
The Belgians were the top scorers in the group stage, rattling in 9 goals and Romelu Lukaku will likely be licking his lips at the prospect of a last sixteen tie with Japan. It provides him an opportunity to move top of this Golden Boot standings and the big striker needs to be in a position to acquire any physical tussles against the Western defence. With 7 goals in his last 4 internationals, financing Lukaku to score anytime appeals .
The same goes for backing Belgium -1 Handicap. They are masters at the art of placing considerably weaker teams into the sword and prior to the non-event that has been the England game, they’d won four straight matches by 3 target margins, against sides in this World Cup while they averaged 4.3 goals per game in qualifying, the joint best record in Europe.
Belgium Predicted Lineup: Courtois, Alderweireld, Boyata, Vertonghen, Carrasco, Witsel, De Bruyne, Meunier, Hazard, Mertens, Lukaku
Japan Predicted Lineup: Kawashima, Sakai, Shoji, Yoshida, Nagatomo, Hasebe, Shibasaki, Inui, Kagawa, Haraguchi, Osako

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