Belgium could go all the way but must get past dogged Japan first
We look ahead to tonight’s World Cup last-16 tie
It’s crunch-time for Roberto Martinez and Belgium. The Red Devils claimed nine points from nine in the group stages without having to move out of second gear.
A victory apiece over Tunisia and Panama was par for the course. While a narrow 1-0 success over England was overshadowed by both nations fielding second-string XIs.
That makes tonight’s last-16 clash with Japan their first significant test since their 3-1 European Championship quarter-final defeat to Wales two years ago. The feeling is that this could be the best opportunity for Belgium’s golden generation to win a major trophy.
The Coral News Team agree, and have taken a closer look at their knockout clash with Japan this evening.
Japan to provide tough opposition?
This may seem like a churlish question. But plenty of superior sides have struggled against inferior opposition at this World Cup. Spain dominated but couldn’t get past Russia. Croatia struggled against Denmark. And Germany were left frustrated against South Korea in the group stages.
Weaker nations are beginning to recognise – and crucially, implement – a well-organised and structured approach against teams with a dangerous attacking unit. Japan showed against Colombia that they have the quality to lock the opposition out.
It’ll be tougher for Samurai Blue against the triumvirate of Romelu Lukaku, Eden Hazard and Dries Mertens. Expect them to try and soak up the Belgium pressure and break with the pace of Genki Haraguchi and Takashi Inui on the wings. Japan are 9/1 to upset the odds and win the match inside 90 minutes. You can back the draw at 19/5.
Are Belgium there to be exploited?
Japan will no doubt spend a fair chunk of their time defending this evening. But the Coral News Team think this Belgium side are there to be got at. Jan Vertonghen and Toby Alderweireld are two reliable centre-halves. Dedryck Boyata, sandwiched in-between them, isn’t.
Likewise, goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois was less than impressive for Chelsea last season. He won’t relish an aerial battle against a Japanese outfit which has proved particularly dangerous from crosses so far. Their wide players provide a very real threat for wingers Yannick Carrasco and Thomas Meunier.
The weak links are there to be exploited. It’s down to Japan’s workmanlike forwards to hassle, harry and unsettle them into a mistake. Inui is 6/1 to Score Anytime, with Leicester City’s Shinji Okazaki rated a 7/2 shot.
Will Lukaku come to the party?
After a group stage that was dominated by big-name players, the knockouts have proved something of a damp squib so far. Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi and Diego Costa all failed to fire in their respective round-of-16 matches as their nations all fell by the wayside.
Will the same fate befall Manchester United ace Lukaku? The 25-year-old has often been accused of going missing in big games for his club. He’ll be eager to ensure that doesn’t happen for his country as he bids to lead them to glory, and himself to the Golden Boot.
Can Martinez and co. go all the way?
With favourites tumbling left, right and centre, you can bet your bottom dollar that Belgium will have their eyes on the prize. Their first-place finish in Group G gives them a tougher route to the final, however.
But they’ll have confidence in their own ability to go all the way under the guidance of swashbuckling attacking coach Martinez. Brazil and Uruguay or France could lay in wait for the Red Devils if they’re to get out of their half of the draw.
Our traders make them the 6/1 fifth-favourites to lift the World Cup trophy.
All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing