Belgium takes on Japan as Brazil faces Mexico test

Published 01.07.2018 20:43
Updated 02.07.2018 08:57
Belgium takes on Japan as Brazil faces Mexico test

Mexico and Japan are glad to still be in Russia after nervous routes to qualification while Brazil is out to bury the ghosts of its semifinal exit four years ago

Brazil plays its first World Cup finals knockout match since their 7-1 defeat to Germany in 2014 today as the last 16 phase moves into its second day. It was July 8 four years ago that Brazil suffered its heaviest defeat in Belo Horizonte in the World Cup semifinals. The meeting with Mexico could so easily have been a rematch against Germany had Joachim Loew's team not folded against South Korea, allowing Juan Carlos Osorio's side to take second place in Group F. Mexico captain Andres Guardado has sent out a warning call to the officials about Brazil's main man ahead of their World Cup last-16 match today.

"We all know Neymar," Guardado told a news conference on Friday. "It's not up to me or us to judge, but the referees and FIFA.

Mexico will be paying a heavy price for a dismal 90 minutes when they take the pitch in Samara. Their 3-0 loss to Sweden on Wednesday didn't knock El Tri out of the World Cup, thanks to South Korea's shock defeat of defending champions Germany, but it did leave them runners-up in Group F. And that meant Group E winners Brazil were up next.

"We need to put this behind us," midfielder Marco Fabian said after the Sweden match.

"We've spent the World Cup thinking about our next rivals at the end of every game, and we've got even more good reason to do that again this time."

With Germany's exit, Brazil is seen by many as favorites to lift the trophy for a record-extending sixth time. Mexico's history against Brazil isn't the best. They've won only 10 of 40 all-time meetings, with their only bit of success in four World Cup match-ups coming in a goalless draw with the hosts during the group stage in 2014.

Elsewhere, impressive Belgium will be aiming to lay down another marker by reaching the quarterfinals of the World Cup with belief they can go all the way to the final. The Red Devils must overcome Japan in Rostov-on-Don today for a place in the last eight, to match the performance of four years ago in Brazil.

It then went out to Argentina and suffered another quarter-final defeat at Euro 2016 to Wales, but the team ranked third in the world is showing every sign it can now come good on its promise. Belgium topped Group G with a 100 percent record, have the players in Eden Hazard and Kevin De Bruyne to unlock defenses, a strong defensive unit with a top keeper in Thibaut Courtois and a striker in Romelu Lukaku who is in contention for the Golden Boot award.

Lukaku has four goals in two games at the tournament, having been rested against England, and has 40 for Belgium in 71 appearances. With five in all following a goal in 2014, he needs one more to become Belgium's outright leading scorer in the World Cup, beating Marc Wilmots.

If the Manchester United striker scores twice more in Russia he will also set a new Benelux record for the most goals in a World Cup. Belgium drew 2-2 with Japan in the group stage of the 2002 World Cup. Japan played it cautiously against Poland, surviving a 1-0 defeat to go through on the fair play rule, but coach Nishino said he would return to a more attacking style against Belgium. Former Inter Milan defender Yuto Nagatomo, now with Galatasaray, said: "We are looking forward to it. We believe in our potential and have the firm intention to reach the next round."

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