FIFA World Cup: Belgium vs Japan preview

Probably the most unbalanced contest in the first knockout round of the 2018 FIFA World Cup will take place on Monday evening at Rostov Arena, where strong favourites Belgium are expected to cruise past Japan. The two teams have met last year in a friendly match, which Belgium won 1-0, but Japan had their own 3-2 friendly victory over Belgium in 2013. The two sides have also met during the 2002 World Cup, hosted by South Korea and Japan, and that match ended 2-2. However, today's Belgium side is a lot stronger than the 2002 squad.

Belgium had an impressive run in the group stage, they ended it with three wins out of three, nine goals scored and two conceded. They started with an easy 3-0 victory over Panama, then they had fun in a 5-2 triumph over Tunisia, and wrapped things up with a 1-0 victory over England, which allowed them to finish at the top of the group table. Eden Hazard and Romelu Lukaku did not play in the last group match as they are dealing with slight injuries, they will most likely have to pass late fitness tests ahead of Monday's match.

Japan were quite lucky to qualify from Group H, they did have some good results but in the end they only qualified because they had received two yellow cards less than Senegal during their three group matches. Nevertheless, Japan started the World Cup with a big upset, the 2-1 victory over Colombia, and then did well to secure a 2-2 draw against Senegal. Their last match, the 1-0 defeat against Poland, was rather strange as the Japanese seemed happy to wait for a favourable result to be recorded in Colombia vs Senegal as head coach Akira Nishino rested most of his first-team regulars.

Probable line-ups:

Belgium: Courtois - Alderweireld, Boyata, Vertonghen - Meunier, De Bruyne, Witsel, Carrasco - Hazard, Mertens - Lukaku

Japan: Kawashima - Sakai, Shoji, Yoshida, Nagatomo - Hasebe, Shibasaki - Haraguchi, Kagawa, Inui - Osako

My prediction: Belgium to win 2-0, Japan are very happy with having gotten this far.

Here are the odds for the match at Bet365:

Belgium win - 1.40
Draw - 4.75
Japan win - 10.00

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