Japan could be through into the last 16 but they remain the position outsiders to win the tournament and it might be a huge mad if they conquer Belgium here. The Red Devils will expect to progress to the past eight and it may just be then if we get a real idea of whether Belgium are genuine contenders or will come up short against the other elite groups.
On paper they have been very notable under Roberto Martinez, unbeaten because a favorable defeat to Spain in his very first game in charge nearly two years back. However they have opted to avoid playing the big teams in friendlies, came through a relatively feeble qualifying group and three games into the 2018 World Cup, we’re not really any wiser as to how they will form up against the top sides.
Easy wins over Panama and Tunisia followed what was little more than a’B Team’ match against England that will have educated Martinez little he didn’t already know. The exact same could well be the situation here with Belgium enormously superior on paper and also using a plethora of players to return in to the side with new legs.
Japan’s advancement to the previous sixteen was possibly the least glorious in the history of this contest. Their sole group win came against a Colombian side that played with 10 men for 87 minutes. They ultimately progressed thanks to some superior Fair Play record to Senegal, with a farcical ending to their final match with Poland effectively viewing Japan prevent yellow cards and settle for a 1-0 defeat in the expectation that Senegal wouldn’t flat against Colombia.
It was a gamble that paid off but trainer Akira Nishino can’t be proud of how his side progressed and there’s over an element of irony they made it through to Fair Play, whilst at the same time possibly bringing the game and even the entire 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 scoring a goal that would have ensured progress against an underwhelming Poland side.
It is difficult to make any kind of situation for Japan here. They have lost their last five matches against European opposition, one of which was a friendly with Belgium this past year. To provide them a little credit, they played fairly well in their second group game against Senegal and played some good football but against a side of Belgium’s quality, they’re likely to fall short in all departments.
The Belgians were the top scorers in the group stage, rattling in 9 targets and Romelu Lukaku will likely be licking his lips at the prospect of a final sixteen tie with Japan. It provides him a chance to go top of the Golden Boot standings along with the big striker needs to be able to acquire any physical tussles against the Japanese defence. With 7 goals in his last 4 internationals, backing Lukaku to score anytime appeals here.
The same holds for backing Belgium -1 Handicap. They’re masters at the art of putting considerably weaker teams into the sword and prior to the non-event which was the England match, they had won four consecutive matches with 3 target margins, all against sides in the World Cup while they averaged 4.3 goals per game in qualifying, and 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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