Belgium escapes with World Cup win over Japan

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Belgium will be hoping to continue their winning momentum in the knockout stages as they are favourites to go the distance, considering the early exits of heavyweights Germany, Spain, Argentina, and Portugal.

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".

Belgium coach Roberto Martinez says all of his players are desperate to be on the pitch ahead of the World Cup round-of-16 clash with Japan in Rostov-on-Don.

Japan were in a far more interesting and far more balanced group than Belgium.

When it comes to big names, however, Belgium can put Japan in the shade. Belgium, the sport's third-best team according to FIFA's own rankings, was up against the No. 61 Blue Samurai.

The Japanese only just squeezed through, taking a route no team has ever taken out of a World Cup group. He brings back the entire starting eleven from Japan's 2-2 draw against Senegal.

But a side who scraped through the group phase only by virtue of receiving fewer yellow cards than Senegal were finally undone in the final quarter of the game. Now it's up against arguably the most well-balanced and complete side in the competition.

Along with Chelsea's Eden Hazard and Manchester United's Romelu Lukaku, Mertens makes up a potent Belgian front three.

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Despite being only 25 years old, the powerfully-built Lukaku already has 40 worldwide goals - including four so far in Russian Federation. We have top players, we play as a group, and it is in our hands.

They were beaten by Poland in their final round-robin stage matchday but managed to finish second after employing questionable negative tactics.

- Belgium have won only one of their five encounters with Japan (D2 L2), although that came in their last meeting in November 2017 (1-0, goal by Romelu Lukaku).

The Red Devils almost found an instant reply, but Eden Hazard was denied by the post after firing from just inside the box. Lukaku has made their job easier by improving his movement off the ball, too, since he has a tendency to be too static at times when just waiting inside the penalty area.

Mertens' modest tally of 15 goals in 72 games for Belgium does not do justice to his finishing ability. The Belgians cruised to qualification, dropping just two points, scoring 43 goals and conceding six in ten matches.

Attempting to reframe the context of the terminology will not excuse Martinez the inevitable condemnation should Belgium fail to dispatch a flawed but potentially risky Japan in Rostov-on-Don.

Japan raced into the lead shortly after the break with a smart low finish from Genki Haraguchi after running onto a through-ball from main man Kagawa.

Kagawa, who has 31 global goals, is likely to play as a playmaker behind the lone striker in Nishino's favored 4-2-3-1 formation.