Friday, 20 July, 2018

Japan's fresher legs give them a chance against Belgium - Nishino

Eden Hazard of Belgium during the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia group G match between England and Belgium Eden Hazard and Belgium could book themselves a place in the World Cup quarter finals facing either Mexico or Brazil Credit Robbie Jay Barratt- AMA
Betsy Taylor | 03 July, 2018, 00:35

Nacer Chadli's 94th-minute victor completed a sensational comeback as Belgium beat Japan 3-2 to book a World Cup quarter-final against Brazil.

Having sealed passage from Group G with a match remaining, Martinez made sweeping changes to his starting XI for the 1-0 win over a similarly fringe England team in Kaliningrad. Belgium's backups defeated England's backups in a game nobody wanted to win, and Japan held off Senegal by keeping the ball deep in their own half, then advanced via Fair Play rules.

Kick-off is 7pm Nigerian time. "Belgium are a better team than us", Japan defender Yuto Nagatomo said in an interview with FIFA.com.

However, he refused to look past Japan towards a potential quarter-final against Mexico or Brazil.

Relieved Belgium manager Roberto Martinez saluted his side's resolve.

Japan's captain Makoto Hasebe admitted, "that was a weird feeling, but I think we did everything right".


The scenes at full-time were a far cry from early in the second half, which saw Japan race into the lead in a frenetic period of play.

Nishino will have to decide whether to bring the creative trio of Kagawa, Honda and Inui, all of whom were rested against Poland in their last match, back into the side as goal-scoring chances are expected to be at a premium in the face of a mean Belgian backline. They were also one of three teams to win all three of their games (with Croatia and Uruguay). Belgium has one of the world's best goalkeepers in Thibaut Courtois - who has yet to make the same blunders befalling other big-name goalies here in Russian Federation - a superb orchestrator of attacks in the wonderfully gifted Eden Hazard and a lethal finisher in striker Romelu Lukaku.

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 now ranked third in the world by Federation Internationale de Football Association.

On the eve of the match at Rostov Arena, the Samurai Blue boss said he had learned from the national team's past two forays into the knockout stage, when Japan squads laboring under fatigue were eliminated in the last 16.

However, it was Japan that took the lead after the interval when Jan Vertonghen failed to cut out a through ball and Genki Haraguchi raced on to fire past Thibaut Courtois.

The Red Devils went in goalless at half-time against the Central American minnows, and team captain Hazard took Lukaku to one side to encourage the Manchester United target man to get more involved in the game.

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