World Cup Preview: Belgium v Japan

Who? Belgium - Japan
Where? Rostov Arena, Rostov-on-Don
When? July 2, 20:00 (CET local time)

Belgium (Omri Tancman)

The current Belgian generation is considered as one of its finest ever. However, in their last two big tournaments the Belgians haven’t managed to progress as much as they wanted. In Brazil in 2014 and in France in 2016 they didn’t succeed to go beyond the quarter finals. When looking at the first teams Belgium presented and comparing it to their first team in Russia 2018 one of the main changes is the inclusion of Dries Mertens in the starting eleven.

Mertens, Napoli’s sneaky striker made a long way until he became a consensus in the Belgian squad. Unlike some of Belgium’s former wonderkids like Lukaku, Hazard and De Bruyne, Mertens had to scrape his way to the top slowly but surely. For example, due to his small size and physical attributes, Mertens was released from Anderlecht’s youth team when he was 16. However, Mertens did not quit and battled to play professional football. His character and his desire to prove that he can be worthy for any team led him finally to a couple of extraordinary seasons with Napoli. In fact, it seems that the character of Mertens and the fighting ethos of Napoli are a match meant to be.

These mental attributes are something that the Belgian national team can benefit from. One of the popular opinions regarding the Belgian national team is that although they have an abundance of talent, sometimes they lack character and grit. The inclusion of Mertens in the first team, differently than in the last two big tournaments can help Belgium to achieve the expected glory they wish to obtain with this generation so much. A win against Japan can be a great step on this path.

Japan (Yossi Medina)

The continental honour is on Japan. The last Asian team left in the World Cup doesn't want to finish their journey in Russia. The Blue Samurais want to be the third Asian team to play in the quarterfinals, after North Korea in 1966 and South Korea in 2002. In order to do that, they must give their best against Belgium.

Japan can't forget their previous World Cup match against Belgium back in 2002. At their opening match in front of the home crowd, the Japanese managed to finish the game with 2:2 by goals of Takayuki Suzuki and Junichi Inamoto. In that World Cup Japan reached the round of 16 and lost to Turkey in their last match.

Even though Japan made it through the group stage, everyone talked about their controversial finish. Japan lost its last match against Poland and qualified after using the fair play tiebreaker. They were ranked above Senegal only because they got two yellow cards less. Many have doubted if they are really better than Senegal, but now it's all history, as Japan is preparing for their match.

This game can be a milestone day for two player. The first is Shinji Okazaki that may play his 117th international game, which will place him as the third most capped player of Japan. Another milestone can be reached by Keisuke Honda, as his next cap will be his 98th international match and he will be tied as the eighth most capped player alongside with Shunsuke Nakamura.

With all this tradition, history and faith, Japan is ready to bring history not only to their country, but to Asia.  Akira Nishino knows well that it's might be difficult, but Japan proved that they can play well against stronger teams. Will it be the case also tonight?

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World Cup Preview: Japan v Poland

Who? Japan - Poland
Where? Volgograd Arena, Volgograd
When? June 28, 16:00 (CET local time)

Japan (Yossi Medina)

Japan couldn't wish for a better situation to be before their last match. Japan is leading group H with four points and will face Poland. At the beginning, Poland considered as the best team in the group, but for this match they will come after they already been eliminated.

All that Japan needs to do now is to win. It wouldn't be an easy task, as Japan usually fails against European opponents. In the previous seven games against team from Europe, Japan managed to win only twice. The first was in home soil against Russia and the second was against Denmark in 2010. This defeat eventually led Japan to its last World Cup round of 16 appearance.

Five players can make history for Japan in this match. If they will play, they will made their 10th World Cup appearance and will equal Hidetoshi Nakata's record for the most capped Japanese in this tournament. These players will be Eiji Kawashima, Makoto Hasebe, Yuto Nagatomo, Shinji Okazaki and Keisuke Honda.

Japan showed its versatility during the World Cup. The games against Colombia and Senegal were two completely different matches and in both Japan had different missions. The Japanese managed to handle both the Colombian attacking style and the Senegalese mixed style. Now they will need to see how they will play against Poland.

With a lot of hope, Japan wants to do it and they can do so. If they will qualify for the next stage, it will mark another great achievement for the Japanese football.

Poland (Eden Roitfarb)

The modern Polish football team just doesn’t seem to be cut for the big tournaments. Since the 1986 World Cup, they have either been eliminated in the group stage (3 times) or haven’t even qualified (5 times). Their European Championship record has also been rather disappointing. This comes in direct contrast to their qualifying performances, who are usually attacking, impressive and inspiring. But none of these adjectives can describe their appearance vs Colombia in Kazan. The Poles lacked ideas and a backbone and were outclassed on route to a 3-0 defeat. That defeat means elimination, and the only thing left is to fight for some pride in the last match vs Japan.

Trying to explain to the Polish nation what went wrong, Robert Lewandowski said: "We fought and tried to do our best, but we couldn’t do anything more ... fighting is not enough to win World Cup matches, you also have to have quality”, perhaps hinting about the lack of service he has received from his teammates. Lewa will try to bow out from the tournament with his first ever World Cup goal, and but he is clearly disappointed with himself and his compatriots. Unsurprisingly, the future of coach Nawalka is also in doubt after the poor campaign, and he took full responsibility for the failure: “For me, this failure hurts the most, I take responsibility for it. I do not have a jumble in my head, it's sport, football”. Nawalka made some questionable decisions these World Cup. One of the bizarre one’s was to put in injured defender Kamil Glik vs Colombia down 3-0 at the 80th minute while having attacking or creative options on the bench like Arek Milik or Karol Linetty. A win vs Japan might be nice for all involved, but Poland face an uncertain future at this point.

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World Cup Preview: Japan v Senegal

Who? Japan - Senegal
Where? Yekaterinburg Arena, Yekaterinburg
When? June 24, 17:00 (CET local time)

Japan (Yossi Medina)

Japan made one of the biggest surprises of the first matchday. No one could imagine that they will defeat Colombia in such an impressive play. Some will say that the early red card for Carlos Sánchez changed the game, but many times we saw that playing against 10 players could be more difficult.

After the game, one name has been repeated several times – the winning goal scorer, Yuya Osako. Japan has many representatives in the Bundesliga and Osako is one of them, while he played in the last season for FC Köln. After the relegation of his club at the end of the season, Osako signed for Weder Bremen and will start his fifth season in the German top flight.

Defeating Senegal will improve their chances to qualify for the next stage. Japan has some good memories of playing against African teams, like their win against Cameroon in the 2010 World Cup. That campaign was the last that they managed to qualify for the knockout stage.

The Blue Samurais are ready to have some good time in their next match. Unlike the expectation, Japan can find their way to a glorious World Cup appearance. All they need to do now it to give another great performance.

Senegal (Omri Tancman)

Before the tournament started, not many expected the game between Senegal and Japan to be considered as a clash over the leadership of group H. After the surprising victory of Japan and the very impressive performance of Senegal against Poland, the upcoming match can be decisive for both teams and probably send one of them to the next stage.

The impressive performance of Aliou Cisse’s players might have been seen as a surprise but Senegal’s dominance and bursts of attacks reminded to many pundits the team of 2002. It seems that the team of 2002 and its spirit overshadow this team. For example, the first match was dedicated to Bruno Metsu, Senegal’s coach in 2002. Moreover, in 2002 Senegal’s second match was against Denmark that has beaten Uruguay 2-1, a result which surprisingly made both teams leaders in their group. This scenario seems to be repeated up until now. Both Senegal and Japan managed to secure important and somewhat surprising wins against Poland and Colombia. According to this scenario, Senegal should end its match against Japan in a draw.

But the spirit of 2002 doesn’t overshadow the current squad only in possible similar scenarios. It lies with the guidance of players from that generation, such as Khalilou Fadiga, who praised the performance of Youssouf Sabaly and Mbaye Niang during the game against Poland. Furthermore, the spirit of 2002 lies in the need of players to be remembered as a generation of their own. As Kalidou Koulibaly, Senegal’s Central Defender stated after the match against Poland “we think a lot about the generation of 2002. Now there is a 2018 generation. We have shown it.” A win against Japan can be a first step to prove that Koulibaly is right.

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World Cup Preview: Colombia v Japan

Who? Colombia - Japan
Where? Mordovia Arena, Saransk
When? June 19, 14:00 (CET local time)

Colombia (Idan Seggev)

Four years ago Colombia finished the group stage with a wonderful 4:1 victory over Japan and on Tuesday they will face the Japanese again, this time in the opening match of group H. Colombia landed in Kazan where they will stay during the tournament and was surrounded by many fans who waited for the players at the airport. They even came in the day after for the practice. The atmosphere is amazing and reminds a lot of the support Colombia had in Brazil which was very important to their success.

In the last few days there were some concerns regarding the fitness of both James Rodriguez and Wilmar Barrios. While all the team practiced together, they stayed at the gym with a doubt of not being completely fit for the first game. However, in the last couple of hours, the Colombian staff confirmed that both players overcame their minor injuries and will be fit to play. Barrios won’t start anyway, but James is probably the most important player of Colombia, so you can understand the sound of relief from the fans.  

According to the last practice, Pekerman will use his regular 4-2-3-1 formation with goalkeeper David Ospina, Mina and Davinson Sanchez as the center-back duo while Arias will be the right-back. The left-back will be chosen between Mojica and Diaz. Carlos Sanchez and Mateus Uribe should start in the middle of the field while Cuadrado, James and Muriel will be the attacking midfielders. Falcao in his World Cup debut will be the only striker up front.

In every World Cup tournament which Colombia won their opening match, they qualified to the next round. A victory over Japan will increase the chance to keep the statistics straight.

Japan (Yossi Medina)

Before the first game of Japan in this World Cup, it is clear now that the team is in trouble. The decision to sack Vahid Halilhodžić seems as a mistake, while Akira Nishino failed to impress his players. In the warm-up games, Japan lost twice to Ghana and Swtizerland, but at least ended them with a 4:2 win against Paraguay.

The Japanese squad includes players who play in Japan or Europe, but there is only one player that plays in a different place and will be the one that may help Nishino. Veteran Keisuke Honda will maybe play his last World Cup and get a chance while he plays for Pachuca from Mexico. While some may be deterred from his decision to play there, Honda gets another opportunity to be part of a Japanese success.

Eight years ago, Honda made a remarkable tournament, as he scored against Cameroon and Denmark in the group stage. These goals were important in securing the knockout stage spot back then. In a complete difference, in Brazil he scored only once against Ivory Coast. That goal was not enough, as Japan eventually lost this game and made a horrible performance that ended in the last place of the group.

These three goals put Keisuke Honda as Japan's World Cup topscorer. Alongside with another teammate, Shinji Okazaki, he will try to be the first Japanese to score in three different World Cups. Now it's the time to see whether he can give Japan another great tournament or it will be an early elimination for the Blue Samurais.

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World Cup Warm-up: Japan v Ghana

Who? Japan – Ghana
Where? International Stadium, Yokohama
When? May 30, 12:45 (CET local time)


Tons of tension in the Japanese national team. It will be their last match in front of their local fans before they will take the flight to Europe. This match will be also part of the Kirin Challenge Cup, which once upon a time used to be a tournament, but nowadays it became a series of friendly matches.

Unfortunately, the main person in the Japanese team will be the coach, Akira Nishino. Even after a successful qualifying campaign, the JFA President decided to sack the former coach, Vahid Halilhodžić, and the veteran local manager has been appointed. It will be Nishino's debut match as the national coach.

There are many doubts about which player will be the x-factor of the team. Some will say it can be Takuma Asano. The 23 years old striker is on loan from Arsenal to Stuttgart and he is one out of eight players that plays in Germany, the most represented foreign league in the squad.

Japan will try to learn a lot from this game. Ghana will be a simulation for playing against an African team that prefers to attack. For the Blue Samurais it may be a preparation for their game at the group stage against Senegal.


After three consecutive World Cups, Ghana will miss the tournament in Russia. The national coach, Kwesi Appiah, decided to use the friendly matches in order to give more players an international experience.

Many players will have a chance to prove to Appiah that they are good enough to be part of this team. Two forwards from the Chinese Super League will be in the front, Franck Acheampong and Richmond Boakye, both made 13 caps in the national team.

The player that will try to make the biggest impact is the midfielder Wakaso Mubarak. He is the oldest player in the squad and he will use his experience to lead his friends during the match.

The next mission of Ghana will be the Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers and in September they will play against Kenya.

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