- With 17 wins and five draws in their last 22 matches, Belgium are the most on-form team in the World Cup. Despite their record, manager Roberto Martinez continues to be perceived as the weak link amongst the group.
- Kevin de Bruyne did Martinez no favors in calling out the manager’s lack of tactical nuance in a 3-3 match last year. Japan are a similar type of technical, tactical team that Belgium would have difficulty unlocking in the past.
- Midfielders Gaku Shibasaki and Takashi Inui made history by becoming the first Japanese players to face each other in a La Liga match when Getafe met Eibar last season. The event was celebrated with a pre-game kickoff featuring the two players, complete with Japanese animation-inspired branding. Eibar captain Dani Garcia said the match was so poor, he would have turned it off if he were watching from home.
- Eibar were the third most watched team in Japan last season, according to their team president. Inui moved to Betis this summer, as the club announced the move with Japanese cartoon characters.
- Japan manager Akira Nishino took over the side in April, his first job in three seasons. He drew criticism for holding onto the ball late into their third group stage match against Poland, to which he apologized to his team for getting booed. Japan beat Senegal in a tiebreaker decided by yellow cards.
- This matchup resembles France and Argentina over the weekend in terms of Japan needing to control the match through the ball, while Belgium relies on quick counter attacks against overmatched defenses.
- Kevin de Bruyne starts the match at the base of midfield, but Belgium puts their best combinations together when he moves further up the field as an attacking midfielder.
- A noticeable sequence throughout this tournament is how vulnerable teams are just after finishing an attack, with their midfield committed and unable to cover the resulting outlet pass in transition. Especially when teams only have a couple weeks to train as opposed to an entire season.
- Unlike Spain’s U-shaped passing around Russia’s backline and despite being underdogs, Japan are getting the ball centrally in front of Belgium’s defense through Shinji Kagawa.
- Japan are defending in a medium block and pressing Belgium at the halfway line, which gives Belgium space behind their backline.
- As they taught us against Panama, Belgium can turn a 0-0 halftime lead into a 3-0 win just as quickly.
- Even though Jan Vertonghen misread the pass, de Bruyne and Axel Witsel must also take blame for the opening goal in their lack of urgency in closing down their center midfield counterpart.
- On Japan’s second goal, Witsel was outnumbered 2 v 1 on top of the box as de Bruyne stood and watched.
- Belgium play better with down a goal (or two) as Hazard, de Bruyne and Lukaku are forced to turn up the tempo in possession.
- Subbing on Marouane Fellaini for Dries Mertens when down two goals seems desperate and the opposite of an attacking move, but it does give de Bruyne freedom to move forward without having to track back.
- Just as their match against Panama turned on a Mertens volley, Vertonghen’s fluke header is all Belgium needs to build momentum.
- Sending in crosses to Fellaini and Lukaku may be the best plan B out of any remaining side in the World Cup.
- Japan tried to foul Belgium at least twice in the counter attack that led to Fellaini’s headed goal to tie the match.
- You could see Belgium’s third goal developing as de Bruyne dribbled into midfield at top speed on a four on three breakaway. The entire sequence, beginning with the corner, encapsulated the match. For Japan, their lack of defensive cover when taking corners lead to two goals. And Belgium are at their most incisive and devastating when de Bruyne is leading the side with space.
- Lukaku’s dummy was brilliant. His movement off the ball, including this final sequence against Japan and this double move against Tunisia is turning into Twitter legend.
- The winner of this World Cup will be decided by who can defend transitions the best.
- After the match, Nishino bemoaned his side’s lack of tactical nous in being unable to see out the match.
- In regards to de Bruyne’s criticism leveled at his tactics, Martinez subs Fellaini and Nacer Chadli scored the match tying and match winning goal. Martinez, meanwhile, praised his team’s character as they move onto an even sterner tactical test in Tite’s Brazil.
A World Cup Abstract: Belgium 3, Japan 2