Many people think this round of sixteen tie between Japan and Belgium is going to be the most one sided knockout tie of this World Cup and the Asian team will be out to prove many a doubter wrong. Belgium may have pushed aside all in their way during the group stages but Japan also deserved to qualify from what was perhaps the most evenly spread group in terms of competition.
The game at the Rostov Arena will see the big names and familiar faces come back into both line ups as the two sides rested players amid rotation during the last set of group game fixtures. For Belgium, Eden Hazard, Romelu Lukaku and Kevin De Bruyne will be the big hitters and Japan would’ve liked to see them remain on the sidelines. For Japan, Akira Nashino will bring back in playmakers Shinji Kagawa and Takashi Inui, captain Makoto Hasebe and perhaps striker Yuya Osaka who has impressed with regular goal scorer Shinji Okazaki battling back to fitness.
Japan are long shots to progress to the quarter finals but if they, as expected, name the same line up as they did against both Colombia and Senegal they are in with a chance. Japan, under the old management regime, in November 2017 lost 1-0 to Belgium with Romelu Lukaku scoring the only goal of the match. But with new management coming in and a new style of playing there could be a lot more goals in this meaningful match-up. Japan will play their own game, not looking to contain and counter but passing intelligently and using quick movements from the front players to forge chances.
However they could revert back to type with Japan coaches coming out and saying that the decision to run the clock down despite losing to Poland was not up to them and the manager but instead the players took it into their own hands against the managers will. The team held a meeting the day after they scraped through to this stage of the competition with captain Makoto Hasebe describing what happened, “In the meeting everybody shared their thoughts, the coach, the players, and the staffs. I felt a positive vibe and a strong bond being built ahead of our next match.” Japan have already done better than most in the country expected so will not feel shame if they are eliminated by Belgium.
The team captain continued to outlay his thoughts to the Japanese media saying, “We have gone through so much in this past two months, including a sudden coach change. The fact we managed to advance through to the round of 16 under such pressure and circumstance gives us great confidence. We don’t know who will start in the next match, but I would like to think of the team first. Japan has never made it into the quarterfinals, and we are given the opportunity to challenge such feat in great condition. I feel very fortunate and at the same time looking forward for this opportunity.”
With nothing to lose Japan could well just etch their names into the history books with a win.
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