Football: Belgium will pay no heed to their favourites tag

Belgium's forward Dries Mertens during a training session in Rostov-on-Don, on July 1, 2018, the eve of their Russia 2018 World Cup round of 16 football match against Japan that he warned Belgium not to be complacent in.
Belgium's forward Dries Mertens during a training session in Rostov-on-Don, on July 1, 2018, the eve of their Russia 2018 World Cup round of 16 football match against Japan that he warned Belgium not to be complacent in. PHOTO: AFP

ROUND OF 16

Belgium v Japan

Singtel TV Ch141 & StarHub Ch222 , tomorrow, 2am


ROSTOV • Dries Mertens has warned Belgium against the perils of complacency as they prepare to face Japan today with one eye on a possible quarter-final showdown with Brazil.

The Belgians have emerged as dark horses at this World Cup, with their "Golden Generation" of players tipped to mount a deep run into the knockout rounds.

Roberto Martinez's side defeated England 1-0 in their last outing to top Group G, earning what on paper should be a straightforward last-16 assignment against Japan.

But Mertens says the Red Devils are wary of a possible repeat of their Euro 2016 quarter-final, when they crashed to a 3-1 loss to Wales despite being favoured to progress.

"I remember the Wales game," Mertens said. "Everyone thought we were going to go through, no problem. And then suddenly, we're out of the tournament.

"We're not going to underestimate Japan because they have a strong team. If they have got this far, it means they're a good side."

After making nine changes for last Thursday's win over England, Martinez is expected to revert to the line-up which impressed in one-sided wins over Panama and Tunisia. And, with nine goals so far in Russia, Belgium are the World Cup's top-scoring team.

Martinez's side defeated Japan 1-0 in a home friendly last November after a goal by Romelu Lukaku, who has claimed four in Russia with two against both Tunisia and Panama in the group stages.

The Manchester United star is set to face Japan after missing the win over England with an ankle knock.

Noting Japan had dramatically changed their coach since last year's friendly - Akira Nishino was brought in just two months ago - Martinez praised the side who beat group winners Colombia in their opening match.

"They're going to be a competitive team," said the Spaniard, who has a full squad to choose from. "They know how to hurt you in a counter-attack."

Japan are aiming to reach the World Cup quarter-finals for the first time. The Samurai Blue have reached the last 16 twice before, in 2002 and 2010.

They have endured stinging criticism since they ran the clock down in a 1-0 loss to Poland to advance at Senegal's expense by virtue of having collected fewer yellow cards.

"(Fans) were short-changed (the last) 10 minutes... So I want to pay people back," Nishino promised.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 02, 2018, with the headline 'Belgium will pay no heed to their favourites tag'. Print Edition | Subscribe