Belgium may have fought their way back into the match during their round of 16 clash with Japan, but there’s no avoiding the fact that Roberto Martinez’s ‘Golden Generation’ almost came unstuck, in what should have been a routine victory. The Belgium manager was forced to shake up his preferred starting XI, and employ a more direct style of play to combat two quick-fire Japan goals – a risk that ultimately paid off. But will Martinez revise his strategy ahead of today’s quarter-final fixture with Brazil.
Despite boasting some of the world’s most accomplished players, Belgium could only stand and watch while Japan ran riot in the early parts of the second-half of last week’s match. Belgium had performed well in the first-half, but when Japan pushed their wide players further up the pitch, the Red Devils lost the tempo of the game and ultimately lost their grip on the tie. Roberto Martinez cut a confused figure on the touchline. He had underestimated his opponents, shipped two goals, and something needed to change quickly before Japan scored a third – which around the 55 minute mark seemed very likely.
Martinez’s ‘plan B’ was straight out of the playbook of the other Red Devils, Manchester United. Bring on Marouane Fellaini, and hope that the midfielder will use his physicality to help Belgium bully their way back into the match. To give credit to Martinez, his substitutions and counter tactics completely worked, but the fact that it had to come to that at all could spell danger for the Spaniard.
“Physically we finished the game really strong. You saw a very strong finish to the third goal which was a powerful strong counter attack.” said Martinez after the match.
“In less than six seconds we covered the whole pitch. And on top of that at the end Romelu was unselfish, he was aware and allows Nacer to score an open goal.
“There aren’t many World Cup games where you come from 2-0 down to win. ‘Today is about the players’ desire of wanting to win and it was an incredible achievement.”
There are a number of parallels between Japan and Brazil. Both teams employ a high-energy approach, often using a creative No. 10 to quickly move the ball up the pitch (Brazil – Philippe Coutinho, Japan – Shinji Kagawa). They both play with width, and their defenders are excellent at making important blocks and interceptions. The obvious difference between the two side’s however, is the overall quality of their players. If Belgium slip up for a 15 / 20 minute period against the likes of Neymar, Gabriel Jesus, and Willian, it’s game over.