ROSTOV-ON-DON, Russia (AP) — The plan is to play like Japan. The hope is to beat Belgium.
The Japanese will face Belgium in the round of 16 at the World Cup on Monday, an underdog against one of the favorites.
“We are faced in this stage with new challenges which are different from those of the group stage,” Japan coach Akira Nishino said Sunday. “We would like to play Japan-like.”
Unlike Belgium, which advanced after three straight wins, Japan barely made it through to the knockout round.
Both Japan and Senegal finished Group H with four points, had the same goal difference and the same number of goals scored, but the Japanese went through because they had fewer yellow cards than Senegal.
“Belgium is a top-three team (in the FIFA rankings). We are 61. How are we to attack them?” Nishino said. “We need to challenge ourselves and may have to create something tomorrow. We must find opportunities and exploit them.”
Belgium entered the tournament as one of the favorites. With the eliminations of Germany, Argentina, Portugal and Spain, it’s even more so one of the teams to beat.
But Belgium coach Roberto Martinez isn’t looking ahead to a possible quarterfinal match against either Brazil or Mexico just yet.
“Japan has a group (of players) that’s competitive and ready to do what it takes to win,” Martinez said. “In essence, they are footballers with incredible energy. They can organize very well and accumulate bodies very quickly at both ends of the pitch.”
Japan advanced to the round of 16 at the 2002 and 2010 World Cups, but has never reached the quarterfinals. In an effort to go that extra match, Nishino rested several key players in the final group game against Poland.
“We do have the spirit and the mentality,” Nishino said. “Belgium may feel that they are just starting the tournament. We would like to be level with them mentally. My players have more to offer in the second round of the tournament, that’s how I feel.”