Belgium and Japan will face off in an intriguing round of 16 matchup that will test the resolve of both nations. Belgium are one of three countries in this World Cup who were undefeated in the group stage. They topped Group G with 9 points and a goal differential of +7. Japan were runners up in Group H with 4 points an even goal differential, through a win, a tie and a loss.
Belgium have been the critics' favourite 'dark horse' pick for the past two international tournaments. Now their top players of this generation no longer have the luxury of flying under the radar. Belgium's top players now have valuable experience and are at the peak of their powers, so they are a viable title contender. Romelu Lukaku has powered Belgium's attack as their main goal scorer, notching a brace in both games that he played. Lukaku has been clinical in his finishing up front and Eden Hazard balances the attack further, by providing pace on the wing and another goal scoring g threat. Belgium's maestro in the midfield is Kevin De Bruyne, his ball control sets the tempo for Belgium and his field vision enables him to thread the needle and play useful through balls to his forwards. Belgian have seemingly endless quality options in their midfield: Mousa Dembélé, Alex Witsel and Marouane Fellaini have wreaked havoc on opposing teams through a blend of physicality and finesse. With all of their offensive firepower, the strength of Belgium's defence constantly gets overlooked. Jan Vertoghen, Toby Alderweireld and Dedryk Boyata have a formidable back three which any team would struggle to operate freely against.
Japan were level on points in Group H with Senegal, but their defensive discipline enabled them advanced on the fair play tie breaker. Japan play a patient style of football. Much of their attack is built around the trio of Keisuke Honda, Shinji Kagawa and Shinji Okasaki. Honda is a legend, who has been Japan's most reliable player for the better part of a decade. His clutch equalising goal in the second half of the match against Senegal show that he has not lost a step. Kagawa is the star in the midfield who pulls the entire attack together. Okazaki is Japan's main goal scoring threat up front, but has yet to find the back of the net in this World Cup so far. For Japan to challenge Belgium, Okazaki will need to have a strong performance.
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