World Cup Round of 16: Will Belgium resort to funny business to top Japan?
It doesn’t seem like two seconds ago we were listening to Robbie Williams open up World Cup, yet now we find ourselves in the later parts of the round of sixteen. In this one, it's Belgium against Japan.
Last Thursday wasn’t a spectacle of football. In fact, it could have been one of the worst nights in the sports' history. Negative play, England lose, dead rubbers and attacking teams going unrewarded. Terrible.
Belgium got here by winning all three games against Panama, Tunisia, and England. Scoring nine goals in the process; the highest group stage tally of any team in the tournament. Japan, on the other hand, hobbled into the runner-up position, with a win, draw and a loss.
This meeting will be the sixth encounter between the two sides; in what has become a somewhat frequent match-up. The first competitive fixture came back in 2002; when the World Cup was co-hosted by Japan. The Saitama Stadium marvelled at the likes of Inamoto and former Belgian head coach, Marc Wilmots – who put a show for the crowd. It finished 2-2 in the opening group game. Both sides progressed from the first round, but were eliminated at the round of sixteen.
Since then a further three matches have been played. It's actually Japan who holds the better record in the tie. They defeated Belgium 4-0 back in 2009; 3-2 more recently in 2013. That said, the European side did finally notch up one win against the Samurai Blue last November; a 1-0 victory as part of World Cup preparations.
Group G Winners
The Red Devils of international football have had quite the run. They are one of the only two sides to win all three of their group stage games; the other being Uruguay. Belgium can attribute this to attacking flair; creativity in the ranks and a sturdy back-line.
Romelu Lukaku has taken no prisoners as he’s put away four goals already. Eden Hazard and Dries Mertens aren’t bad either; they’ve got a few themselves. Adnan Januzaj opened up his World Cup account against the Three Lions with a pearl that went over the defence, and past the hapless Jordan Pickford, into the net. Youri Tielemans is working the midfielders like the fields of Sint-Pieters-Leeuw; militantly and with great precision. He’s making everything happen in the middle.
Their tight defence has only seen two goals go past them, both from Tunisia, strangely. They do have options aplenty, however, with the likes of Vincent Kompany, Toby Alderweireld, Jan Vertonghen, Leander Dendocker, amongst several others, all fighting it out for the starting places across the back line.
In their last match against England, they rotated the pack to show us just how deep their squad is; whilst they did secure three points, the game was a dull as dishwater as both team’s second strings showed us why we just shouldn’t play dead rubbers.
Group H Runners-up
Samurai Blue is guilty of one of the biggest travesties ever witnessed in World Cup history. With at least ten minutes left of their game, the coach knew that the current scores from both group G fixtures would see Japan progress – despite trailing to Poland 1-0.
It was hard to watch a team slump into auto-pilot and just one-two the ball within their own half. The Polish opposition looked confused but largely happy to see out the last few minutes knowing they could start their summer holidays relatively soon. Japan was hoping to keep the ball, thusly not conceding – and hoping that Senegal couldn’t find a goal over in the other game. They didn’t. Relying on other results and not your own performance. Woeful. Negative football rewarded.
It's a shame that this is the global image of the country’s football team; tarnishing their good performances in the prior matches. After all, this team did beat Colombia and show a lot of spirit in the game with Senegal.
Yuto Nagatomo has been pivotal with his European top-flight experience, at times, it has kept them in games. He operates like a contemporary wing/full-back; getting forward seemingly when he likes. He seems to cover every blade of grass on the pitch to get the win.
The highest profile name, Keisuke Honda, divides opinion in Japan. Whilst one of the better talents, he bucks the trend and is fairly outspoken with his media appearances. Combined with his age, the defensive/negative mentality in the last game; he’s not had much game time – only coming off the bench. His attacking abrasive attitude may be what is needed to take the game to Belgium.
Can we really look further than the Belgians? The big guns of Lukaku, Mertens, and Hazard have all been rested going into the game. They served as the cultural arbiter for world football. Calling Japan to serve for its heinous crimes against football. 4-0 is not an unimaginable scoreline for them; as they should outclass the Japanese in every department. Romelu to score early and open the floodgates for a big Belgian win.