The Red Devils are aiming to reach their third World Cup quarter-final (after Mexico 1986 and Brazil 2014) and equal their world finals record of four consecutive wins, set four years ago. Their unbeaten 22-match run – the longest in Belgium’s history – reflects the quality of a hugely talented side.
Japan advanced from the group phase on fair play points and are intent on winning a last-16 tie for the first time ever. They have the experience to do just that: Eiji Kawashima, Makoto Hasebe, Yuto Nagatomo and Shinji Okazaki are each set to play their 11th world finals matches, a national record. Along with Keizuke Honda, they will be looking to make up for the defeat to Paraguay at South Africa 2010, the last time that the Japanese featured in the knockout rounds.
Team reporter analysis
Simon Massart, with Belgium (Follow on Twitter | Facebook)
Roberto Martinez left most of his first-choice players on the bench for the England match so they could rest and avoid suspensions. Even with a weakened side, the Belgians still recorded a fine win that buoyed morale even further and has put some pressure on the squad’s habitual starters. The Red Devils are expected to play a dynamic, offensive game against the Japanese. Should the Asians adopt the same mindset, it should make for an open, entertaining game.
Hidetoshi Suzuki, with Japan (Follow on Twitter | Facebook)
Japan used a 4-4-2 formation in their last group match against Poland and lost 1-0. Coach Akira Nishino is likely to revert to the 4-2-3-1 system he deployed in the win over Colombia and the draw with Senegal. Attacking midfielders Genki Haraguchi, Shinji Kagawa and Takashi Inui will have important roles to play. The Japanese will look to attack down the flanks and their chances of success will hinge on how well they can supply Gaku Shibasaki.
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Several players on both sides will start the game on yellow cards. A further caution in this game will see them miss the quarter-finals, should their team win, of course. Thomas Meunier, Jan Vertonghen, Kevin De Bruyne, Youri Tielemans and Leander Dendoncker are the men in question for Belgium, while Japan’s Kawashima, Hasebe, Tomoaki Makino and Takashi Inui find themselves in the same position.
Belgium: Thibaut Courtois; Jan Vertonghen, Vincent Kompany, Toby Alderweireld; Axel Witsel, Kevin De Bruyne, Yannick Carrasco, Thomas Meunier; Dries Mertens, Eden Hazard; Romelu Lukaku
Japan: Eiji Kawashima; Hiroki Sakai, Maya Yoshida, Gen Shoji, Yuto Nagatomo; Makoto Hasebe, Gaku Shibasaki; Genki Haraguchi, Shinji Kagawa, Takashi Inui; Yuya Osak