Belgium will be looking to book a place in the World Cup quarter-finals when they meet Japan at Rostov Arena on Monday.

Meanwhile Japan may be through to the last 16 but they remain the rank outsiders to win the tournament and it would be a massive upset if they beat the Europan side.

The Red Devils will expect to progress to the last eight and it may only be then when we get a real idea of whether Belgium are genuine contenders or are going to come up short against the other elite teams.

On paper they’ve been very impressive under Roberto Martinez, unbeaten since a friendly defeat to Spain in his very first game in charge almost two years ago.

However they’ve opted to avoid playing the big teams in friendlies, came through a relatively weak qualifying group and three games into the 2018 World Cup, we are still not really any wiser as to how they will shape up against the top sides.

Easy wins over Panama and Tunisia followed what was little more than a ‘B Team’ game against England will have taught Martinez little he didn’t already know.

The same could well be the case on Monday with Belgium vastly superior on paper and with a host of players to bring back in to the side with fresh legs.

Japan’s progress to the last sixteen was perhaps the least glorious in the history of the competition. Their only group win came against a Colombian side that played with 10 men for 87 minutes.

They ultimately advanced thanks to a superior Fair Play record to Senegal with a farcical end to their final game with Poland effectively seeing Japan avoid yellow cards and settle for a 1-0 defeat in the hope that Senegal wouldn’t level against Colombia.

It was a gamble that paid off but coach Akira Nishino can’t be proud of how his side progressed and there’s more than an element of irony that they made it through on Fair Play whilst at the same time arguably bringing the game and even the entire tournament into disrepute.

One can understand it to some extent but it speaks volumes that Nishino had more faith in Colombia seeing off Senegal than in his own team’s chances of scoring a goal that would have guaranteed progress against an underwhelming Poland side.

They’ve lost their last five matches against European opposition, one of which was a friendly with Belgium last year. To give them a bit of credit, they performed pretty well in their second group game against Senegal and played some decent football but against a side of Belgium’s quality, they are likely to fall short in all departments.

The Belgians were the top scorers in the group stage, rattling in nine goals and Romelu Lukaku will be licking his lips at the prospect of a last sixteen tie with Japan.

It offers him a chance to move top of the Golden Boot standings and the big striker should be able to win any physical tussles against the Japanese defence.


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Monday, December 10, 2018
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