Belgium’s time to shine at World Cup, says Hazard

Ruben Holloway
July 3, 2018

Substitute Nacer Chadli slotted home in the fourth minute of injury time to complete a memorable comeback and seal a 3-2 win in the last-16 match in Rostov-on-Don.

Belgium averaged three goals per game, and looked flashy even when playing mostly reserves against England in winning the last group game.

For Belgium, it is a chance to deliver on the huge promise of arguably their most talented generation of footballers, while Japan will be hoping to cause an upset.

Some might argue that Roberto Martinez's side would have had a less challenging path through the draw if they had finished second in Group G. In that scenario, they would have faced a potential quarter-final against Switzerland or Sweden.

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".

Japan had other ideas.

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Japan forward Shinji Okazaki is carrying an ankle injury, but otherwise manager Akira Nishino has no injury concerns. The Blue Samurai were all over them from the opening kickoff, with wingers Genki Haraguchi and Takashi Inui stretching Belgium's defenders while playmaker Shinji Kagawa, who came close to opening the scoring with an early shot from distance, pulled the strings in the middle.

Belgium, listed third in the latest Federation Internationale de Football Association rankings, play Japan on Monday in the round of 16 at Rostov Arena at should be a winnable match for coach Roberto Martinez's men, but stranger things have happened at this tournament.

Martinez, the former Everton manager, said: "Let's congratulate Japan, they played the ideal game".

Romelu Lukaku failed to react in time when Kompany flicked the ball towards him on the half-hour as Belgium struggled to get on track. And the Japanese continued to threaten on the counter when the ball turned over, with lone forward forward Yuya Osako squandering a free header by sending it straight at goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois a half-hour into the match.

Eden Hazard seemed to be enjoying himself, while Dries Mertens proved why he is so important for Napoli. Japan's confidence only grew when Inui doubled the advantage just four minutes later. But they haven't truly established themselves as a burgeoning power since then, with their loss to Wales at the Euros becoming emblematic of this generation's Belgium: a supremely talented squad that can't be relied upon when it counts.

"It was a test of character and you see the reaction of our subs coming on to win the game".

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Belgium passed it with flying colors.

In the midfield, Mousa Dembele, Yannick Carrasco and Axel Witsel are expected to start.

Vertonghen pulled back a goal nearly immediately. Getting past the Red Devils will surely make it Japan's greatest footballing achievement. But just when the match appeared headed to extra time, Courtois rose to catch an off-target corner kick and launched his team's classy attackers on a break that, after a pretty Lukaku dummy run, ended with Chadli side-footing the victor past the outstanding Eiji Kawashima from the doorstep.

"Now we need to focus on Japan".

After a goalless first half, Japan struck twice in seven minutes following the interval to take full control of a gripping last-16 tie in Rostov-on-Don on Monday.

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