Preview: Belgium vs Japan

Belgium will be looking to carry their tremendous form from the group stage into the knockout rounds of the FIFA World Cup, starting with their last 16 clash with Japan at the Rostov Arena.

2018 FIFA World Cup
2 July 2018
Round of 16
Kick-off: 20h00 (GMT+2)
Venue: Rostov Arena

Referee: M. Diedhiou
Assistants: D. Camara, E. Samba
Fourth official: B. Gassama

Previous encounter:

Belgium 1-0 Japan (Friendly) 14/11/2017

Players to watch:

Romelu Lukaku has had a tremendous start to the tournament, netting four goals in the group stage despite missing the Red Devils’ 1-0 win over England. With the likes of Kevin de Bruyne, Eden Hazard and Dries Mertens supporting him in attack, it will take some effort for Japan to nullify the Manchester United striker.

Keisuke Honda became the first Japanese player to score at three World Cups when he netted a vital equaliser in the 2-2 draw against Senegal, which ultimately proved decisive in Japan’s quest to qualify for the last 16. Having played a bit-part role in this World Cup so far, it is unclear how much he will feature against Belgium, but his experience might prove vital in this crunch encounter.

Team form and manager quotes:

Belgium breezed through Group G, beating Panama 3-0 and Tunisia 5-2 before their 1-0 win over England. Expectations have been raised by their solid start to the tournament, but coach Roberto Martinez has claimed to be focusing only on the next game.

“Now we need to focus on Japan. England will play Colombia and if you start thinking any further than that, you’re risking a lot,” the former Wigan Athletic and Everton boss claimed.

Japan only scraped through Group H due to their superior fair play record to Senegal, who they finished level with on goals scored, goals conceded and points acquired.

Nevertheless, Martinez is expecting a stern test from Akira Nishino’s side.

“I think it is a really dynamic team, very well organised and technically structured. Japanese football is really strong and we expected a really competitive game. I don’t think there will be big surprises when we face each other,” he said.

Having taken criticism for his negative tactics in their recent defeat to Poland, which saw Japan sit back despite being behind, Nishino has now turned his attention to preparing strategically for a showdown with a star-studded Red Devils side.

“They are a world class team and it’s a fantastic challenge for us to be facing them,” Nishino said of Belgium.

“We have to make a good analysis and prepare our team and decide what strategy we have for the game.”

Team news:

Star striker Lukaku is fully fit again after suffering an ankle injury against Tunisia. Indications at this point are that Roberto Martinez has a fully fit squad available to work with, with Thomas Vermaelen and Vincent Kompany also ready to play.

Having experimented with his side against Poland, it will be interesting to see whether or not Nishino brings the likes of Shinji Kagawa, Takashi Inui, Yuya Osako and Mateo Hasebe back into his team.

Shinji Okazaki hobbled off in Japan’s last game with an ankle injury, but that appears to be the only fitness concern for Japan.