Japan felt confident walking into the stadium, the pressure all on their opponents Belgium. The European outfit brought back in superstars Eden Hazard, Kevin De Bruyne and Romelu Lukaku whilst Vincent Kompany came into the back three sandwiched between Tottenham defenders Jan Vertonghen and Toby Alderweireld. Japan unsurprisingly moved back to the same lineup that got four points from their first two games and looked to cause a big shock in a World Cup full of upsets.
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.
The final set of games in Group H were set up perfectly with three teams battling it out for just two places in the next round. With their draw against Senegal, Japan stayed level at the top of the group and knew that a draw against Poland would be enough to see them through to the knockout stages. Japan could also still qualify through the group with a loss but would need Colombia to beat Senegal. This suited Japan as Colombia needed to win themselves to ensure qualification but the Samurai Blue would have wanted to leave matters in their own hands as Senegal needed only one point to finish in the top two spots.
Japan kicked off their World Cup campaign against Colombia in the smallest host city of the World Cup, Mordovia. In a very competitive Group H alongside Senegal and Poland there was no guarantee of progressing from the group stages for either side. Both Japan and Colombia met in the group stages four years ago in Brazil with the South Americans coming up trumps in a 4-1 victory. Two of the scorers that day for Colombia were Jackson Martinez who was not called up to the squad and James Rodriguez who sees muscle problems resign him to a role among the substitutes; the other scorer Juan Cuadrado started on the right wing. Japan’s scorer that day was Shinji Okazaki who also shared the unfortunate fate of Rodriguez, slight muscle fatigue seeing Yuya Osaka, relegated with Koln last season in the Bundesliga, start in the striker position.