Belgium boss Roberto Martinez aware of Japan threat
Belgium will start as firm favourites to book a place in the World Cup quarter-finals.
Belgium manager Roberto Martinez says he is wary of a Japan team with “incredible energy” ahead of Monday’s World Cup last-16 clash.
The free-scoring Belgians go in as firm favourites, taking with them a 100 per cent record from the group phase and netting nine goals in beating Panama, Tunisia and England.
With players like Eden Hazard and Romelu Lukaku at his disposal, Martinez’s team have more than enough quality to match their achievement at the last World Cup and secure a place in the quarter-finals, where Brazil could await.
Most pundits are predicting a comfortable Belgium win, but Martinez has short shrift for such a theory.
“They are footballers with an incredible energy and a great capacity to get really high up the pitch very quickly,” he said at his pre-match press conference.
“This Japan team shows a lot of good experience, a lot of players who have played in big leagues in Europe for a long time. They know what it takes to win a game of this calibre.
“This is a group of players that know what they are doing. I expect a very difficult game.
“They are capable of creating problems due to the dynamic approach that they have.”
Martinez, though, expects to select from a full squad, with Lukaku and Vincent Kompany both available, and he added: “The group is in a very good moment.
“Mentally and physically, you just get the feeling the players are desperate to be on the pitch. I feel the players are ready to get their rhythm as quick as they can.”
Hazard will be instrumental to Belgium’s hopes of progressing, and he knows it is a case of seizing the moment.
“We will take this match as seriously as possible,” the Chelsea playmaker said. “What is important is to progress and to reach the quarter-finals.
“We need to be very serious and focused right from the beginning of the game.”
A Brazil-Belgium quarter-final could be one of the games of the tournament, but Hazard added: “We are not thinking about a game against Brazil.
“All we are doing is thinking of tomorrow’s game. We have top players, we play as a group, and it is in our hands.
“We just need to play together and give everything.”
Japan, while needing to halt a team on a 22-match unbeaten run, also have the incentive of targeting a World Cup quarter-final place for the first time.
Japan head coach Akira Nishino told www, jfa.jp: “We just need to organise ourselves. We will make the necessary adjustments ahead of the match.
“This team will have to approach the round of 16 with a different mental perspective.
“We chose to save our energy in that (final) 10 minutes (against Poland), so we should be able to run that much extra.”