Weblog: The football punter
Belgium should stroll through to the last 16
Round of 16
BBC1, 7pm Monday
Belgium eased through to the knockout stages with little fuss before defeating England in Thursday’s tame final Group G fixture but now the serious business starts for the Red Devils as they take on Japan in Rostov.
Roberto Martinez’s team impressed in the early stages in Russia but they had little to beat in Panama, who were out of their depth, and a Tunisia side who were ruthlessly exploited as they attempted to chase the game.
Martinez then rang the changes for the meeting with England, which amounted to little more than a training exercise, and the Spaniard virtually admitted that he would have quite happily seen his side finish second to the Three Lions.
Adnan Januzaj’s goal gave Belgium a 1-0 victory, however, and they have been rewarded with a last-16 tie against Japan which, should they win, would lead to a possible quarter-final meeting with Brazil.
Bookmakers believe that the Samurai Blue are set for a Belgian battering at the hands of the ruthless Red Devils.
Japan appear lucky to have made it to the knockout stages following a fortuitous victory over Colombia in their Group H opener – their opponents were down to ten men after just three minutes and 1-0 behind moments later.
Colombia were arguably the better side for the best part of the game before tiring late on and Japan, predicted to finish bottom of the group before a ball was kicked, suddenly found themselves in a strong position.
A point against Senegal followed but the Lions of Teranga won the shot-on-target count 7-3 and had a higher expected goals rating than their opponents.
Thursday’s drab 1-0 defeat against Poland was enough to see Akira Nishino’s team into the knockout stages but they will have to seriously raise their standards if they are to trouble the 2-5 Belgians.
Martinez deployed his reserves against England but the star names, not risked in Kaliningrad, will return and that means that Japan’s admittedly shaky defence will have to deal with an onslaught from Eden Hazard, Dries Mertens and Romelu Lukaku with Kevin De Bruyne pulling the strings in behind that illustrious attacking trio.
Belgium were brutal in their execution against Tunisia, scoring in the sixth and 16th minutes and they registered an off-the-charts expected goals score of 5.3 not including the penalty that Hazard slotted home.
Japan will have to hang tough but Belgium know how to unlock teams who put bodies behind the ball.
They scored a mammoth 43 goals in qualification and while Japan have proved better than was first feared, they have got lucky so far in the tournament and luck tends to run out when the lesser teams meet the stronger ones.
Belgium-Belgium double result