BELGIUM face Japan in Rostov on Monday with a World Cup quarter-final place at stake. Adam Goodwin (@agjournalism) offers his best bets.
Belgium v Japan | Monday 2nd July 2018, 19:00 | BBC
‘Dark horses' for the umpteenth major tournament, Belgium are now looking to finally achieve some success with their ‘Golden Generation.’
Japan were in turmoil before this tournament, sacking manager Vahid Halilhodzic in April, but they’ve defied all the odds and reached their first World Cup knockout game since 2010.
Belgium topped the group after their 1-0 win over England in their final game in Group G. Adnan Januzaj grabbed them the goal to ensure they finished with maximum points.
It was a much-changed Belgium side as they made 10 changes, resting the likes of Eden Hazard, Kevin De Bruyne and Romelu Lukaku. It wasn’t a great game, but the win should give them some momentum heading into this game.
The Red Devils scored nine goals in three group games, and with Romelu Lukaku looking likely to feature, Belgium will certainly be looking to add to that tally when they come up against Japan on Monday. They scored at least twice in 9/10 (90%) of their qualification games and no qualifier landed more shots on-target per-game than Belgium (9.5).
Manchester United striker Lukaku picked up a thigh injury in Belgium’s penultimate group games against Tunisia but, at the moment, it’s looking like he will be fit . He’s fired in 40 goals in 71 appearances for his country – 11 of those in World Cup qualifying – and with the sheer amount of creative quality behind him, he should be adding to his World Cup total on Monday.
Japan qualified from Group H despite losing their final group game to Poland on Thursday. They qualified ahead of Senegal because of their superior disciplinary record, becoming the first ever side to qualify from a World Cup group in these circumstances.
They scraped into the Last 16 and will count themselves a tad lucky to qualify for the knockout stages. They needed a red card in the first game, a late equaliser in the second game and they lost the final game in Group H. They played well in parts against Senegal and Columbia but they’ll need a much-improved performance if they are to beat Belgium.
Akira Nishino was disappointed with his side’s defensive stance against Poland and said: “I’m not too happy about this but I forced my players to do what I said. We did not go for victory, but we just relied on the other match. I view that it was slightly regrettable but I suppose at that point that I didn’t have any other plans.”
It looks like he won’t choose to sit back against Belgium, and would much rather see his side play with the attacking dynamism that served them well in their first two games.
Japan saw Over 1.5 Goals in 16/18 (89%) of their qualifying games and, as for Belgium, Over 1.5 Goals landed in every single one of their qualifying games.
It’s also landed in all but two of Roberto Martinez’s wins as Belgium manager, so that’s the angle I’m going to take here. A Belgium win and Over 1.5 Goals is available at 3/4 with Ladbrokes and looks a cracking price.
Lukaku to score anytime also looks a good bet and, despite questions regarding his fitness, I’m happy to take a punt on the big Belgian forward to net anytime at 10/11 with Paddy Power.
Belgium v Japan – Belgium to win and Over 1.5 Goals (3/4 Ladbrokes)
Belgium v Japan – Romelu Lukaku to score anytime (10/11 Paddy Power)