By 90Min
July 01, 2018

Belgium will take on Japan on Monday in Rostov-on-Don in the last 16 of the FIFA World Cup, knowing that their likely reward for victory will be a quarter-final showdown with favourites Brazil, who face Germany's conquerors Mexico in their last 16 clash.

Some might argue that Roberto Martinez's side would have had a less challenging path through the draw if they had finished second in Group G. In that scenario, they would have faced a potential quarter-final against Switzerland or Sweden.

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On the other hand, by winning their group, the Red Devils avoided a daunting encounter with Colombia, who will face England instead. Nevertheless, the Samurai Blue should not be underestimated, having earned a shock win over the talented Colombians in their Group H opener.


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If Belgium lose on Monday, it will be their first defeat in a competitive match since their shock 3-1 defeat to Wales in the quarter-final of the 2016 European Championship. The Belgians cruised to qualification, dropping just two points, scoring 43 goals and conceding six in ten matches.

The Red Devils continued to impress in their warm-up friendlies - including a 1-0 win over Japan. They also breezed through their World Cup group without breaking a sweat, hammering Panama 3-0 and Tunisia 5-2 before deservedly defeating England 1-0 to win the group.

Nevertheless, Belgium's impressive run doesn't (yet) include any major scalps, unless you count the Three Lions - and both Martinez and Gareth Southgate rested most of their first choice players for the final Group G clash.

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Japan failed to impress in their qualifying campaign, winning a weak group but dropping ten points in the process. They were also hammered 4-1 in the EAFF East Asian Cup by South Korea in December.

Japan's 4-2 win over Paraguay in their final World Cup warm-up match was their first victory of 2018, after a draw and three defeats. They were likely as surprised as anyone else when they stunned Colombia 2-1 in their Group H opener. This shock result was followed by a battling 2-2 draw with Senegal.


Japan and Poland Revive the Spirit of the 'Disgrace of Gijón'

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The Samurai Blue only reached the last 16 because they had accrued fewer yellow cards than the Lions of Tarenga. Both sides finished on four points, as Japan slumped to an insipid 1-0 defeat against Poland - and Senegal lost by the same scoreline to Colombia.

While Japan deserve credit for reaching the last 16, they deserve none at all for the way in which they concluded their final group match against Poland. Late in the game, Japan were trailing 1-0 against the Poles - who were already out - when news filtered through that Colombia had taken the lead against Senegal.

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Knowing that they would progress if the scores stayed the same - and as long as they didn't pick up any bookings - the Japanese just passed the ball around, with Poland quite content to let them do so.

This shockingly cynical approach evoked memories of the notorious match played out between West Germany and Austria in Spain in 1982 - a 1-0 win for the Germans in which both teams seemed to stop playing after an early goal had been scored. The result saw both sides progress at Algeria's expense.


Team News

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Roberto Martinez has several players on yellow cards - most notably centre back Jan Vertonghen, right back Thomas Meunier and creative midfielder Kevin de Bruyne. If any of them picks up a second booking against Japan, they will be suspended for the quarter-final - assuming that Belgium win.

Japan forward Shinji Okazaki is carrying an ankle injury, but otherwise manager Akira Nishino has no injury concerns. However, like Martinez, he has three key players on yellow cards - goalkeeper Eiji Kawashima, captain Makoto Hasebe and star midfielder Takashi Inui.

Predicted Lineups:


Belgium (3-4-2-1): Thibaut Courtois; Toby Alderweireld, Dedryck Boyata, Jan Vertonghen; Thomas Meunier, Kevin de Bruyne, Axel Witsel, Yannick Carrasco; Dries Mertens, Eden Hazard; Romelu Lukaku.

Japan (4-2-3-1): Eiji Kawashima; Hiroki Sakai, Maya Yoshida, Gen Shoji, Yuto Nagatomo; Makoto Hasebe, Gaku Shibasaki, Genki Haraguchi, Yoshinori Muto, Takashi Inui; Yuya Osako.


Previous Encounter: Group Stage, World Cup 2002

Japan held Belgium to a thrilling 2-2 draw in 2002 - though the current Belgian side are a very different proposition from the 2002 side, and Japan were the co-hosts in that year.

After a goalless first half, Belgium captain Marc Wilmots gave his side the lead in the 57th minute with a brilliant overhead kick - only for Japan to equalise just two minutes later, as Takayuki Suzuki capitalised on a misjudgement by Jacky Peeters to prod the ball home.

Then, in the 69th minute, Junichi Inamoto scored a fantastic solo goal, beating Eric van Meir before firing home an unstoppable shot. However, Peter van der Heyden denied Japan a shock victory, beating the offside trap before deftly chipping the ball over goalkeeper Seigo Narazaki.


Predicted Result

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As mentioned earlier, Japan have done exceptionally well to get as far as they have. Defeating Colombia was an outstanding achievement, even though the Japanese played most of the match against ten men.

However, it would arguably be the biggest shock of the tournament so far - even more astonishing than Germany's elimination - if the Japanese eliminated the side currently ranked third in the world by FIFA.

That said, Monday's clash will likely be Belgium's toughest test of the tournament so far. Still, it's a test that they ought to pass.

Predicted Result: Belgium 2-0 Japan

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