PREVIEW: Belgian football's hopes are high that a generation of hard work in rebuilding from the grass roots will bear fruit at this World Cup, but coaches are already looking beyond and at how to outfox bigger rivals next time. They have seen Germany this year continue a run of champions going from boom to bust as winning teams age -- Spain, Italy and France also all crashed after winning a previous World Cup; and the Belgian FA, and national coach Roberto Martinez, want younger talent lined up even before their elders have delivered.
"For the next four years, it's very important for our young talented players to get experience," Bob Browaeys, who has been national youth coach for nearly 20 years, told Reuters, arguing that past champions have been slow to refresh the first team. Martinez, who saw his native Spain as reigning European and world champions humbled in Brazil in 2014, used a last group game after Belgium were through to give his reserves a run out; the likes of Youri Tielemans, 21, Adnan Januzaj and Anderlecht captain Leander Dendoncker, both 23, and national skipper Eden Hazard's little brother Thorgan, beat a makeshift England 1-0.
Jul 3, 2018 1:40 am (IST)
Martinez: Well, that’s what happens in the World Cup. You have to congratulate Japan, they played the perfect game. They were so solid, they frustrated us, then they were clinical on the counter. And it was a test of the team. The reaction of everyone wanting to get back in the game. To win the game tells you everything about this group of players.
No negative things, believe me. Today was about going through, and we did that. Today was a day to be proud of this group of players. Keep believing. These players can. In the World Cup sometimes you want to be perfect. Football is about winning and the boys showed an incredible winning mentality today.
Jul 3, 2018 1:24 am (IST)
That was also the last action of the game, Belgium have won this with the last kick of the game. Japanese players are heart-broken and they look shell-shocked. What a game this has turned out to be. It finishes 3-2 to Japan!
Jul 3, 2018 1:23 am (IST)
GOAL! Belgium have scored the winner here to break Japanese hearts, this is football at its very best. Japan have players in the Belgium box for corner, but Courtois catches the ball and throws it immediately to de Bruyne and Belgium break in numbers here. de Bruyne finds Meunier, who crosses inside the box. Lukaku leaves it for incoming Chadli who gets the winning goal!
Jul 3, 2018 1:21 am (IST)
Honda with a free kick from 40m out! He goes for goal and forces a save out of Courtois there
Jul 3, 2018 1:18 am (IST)
Courtois at full stretch there otherwise that would have been an own goal from Witsel! We are into 4 minutes of stoppage time now
Jul 3, 2018 1:14 am (IST)
Kawashima to Japan's rescue twice there! First he denies a header from Chadli and then also Lukaku on the rebound, acrobatic saves from the 35-year-old to keep Japan in this one
The crosses and set-pieces are proving to be a real problem for Japan, especially since Fellaini has come on. Belgium now have two target men in the middle! It's 2-2 with 81 minutes gone
Jul 3, 2018 1:05 am (IST)
This game is turning into an absolute classic here, Belgium certainly on the up here, can they get the winner? 13 minutes left still!
Jul 3, 2018 1:02 am (IST)
GOAL! Belgium come back in this one, Fellaini with the header. Hazard with a great cross in and Fellaini gets a towering header into the back of the net. We are all level at 2-2!
Jul 3, 2018 12:58 am (IST)
GOAL! Vertonghen gets one back for Belgium, Kawashima fails to get a solid punch from the corner. Japanese defenders try to clear it but it goes to Vertonghen who gets a looping header in at the far post from some distance! Belgium right back in this one. 2-1 with 20 minutes left!
Jul 3, 2018 12:56 am (IST)
Heroic from Yoshida, again Lukaku gets in the right area and this time gets a clear shot away but Yoshida does well to block that one
Chadli and Fellaini come on for Belgium as they look to mount a stunning comeback here, Mertens and Carrasco are off.
Jul 3, 2018 12:51 am (IST)
This seems to be Japan's day today, Lukaku misses a header from just outside the goal. Great cross in from Meunier but Lukaku can't get a solid enough connection, his header is off target. Still 2-0 with 62 minutes gone
Japan have been a totally different team in the second half here, now a cross from Haraguch deflects off Witsel's head. He didn't know where that was going, luckily it goes behind for a corner
Jul 3, 2018 12:41 am (IST)
GOAL! Japan score once again! This time its Inui with a sensational striker, Kompany clears the ball to Kagawa who passes to Inui, he shoots on his second touch and it flies into the bottom corner! They lead 2-0 and Belgium need something really special to comeback here.
Jul 3, 2018 12:40 am (IST)
Belgium with almost an immediate reply there, Hazard takes a shot from edge of the backs which comes back off the post! It was hit brilliantly there, unlucky for the Chelsea midfielder.
Jul 3, 2018 12:38 am (IST)
GOAL! Japan take the lead here and it was all so simple, Meunier looses the ball and then Japan break through the middle. A long through ball finds Haraguchi, Vertonghen really poor there and he should have dealt with it. Haraguchi then gets into the box and hits his shot past Courtois and into the back of the net. Japan lead 1-0!
Jul 3, 2018 12:31 am (IST)
Both sets of players are back on the pitch here, Japanese supporters still seem to be making the most noise here. Can their team give them something special to cheer for?
Jul 3, 2018 12:17 am (IST)
So, that's half-time here and it is still 0-0. Belgium certainly the dominant team but Japan have had some chances of their own. All to play for in the second half still!
Jul 3, 2018 12:15 am (IST)
Courtois has a heart-stopping moment there, Japan again attack from the wings with Nagamoto getting a good ball in, Osako fails to get a clear touch but Courtois seems to be in bit of a hurry as the ball almost goes through his legs and into the goal. He scrambles back and collects it just in time. 45 minutes gone here and we are into stoppage time
Jul 3, 2018 12:10 am (IST)
Shibasaki gets the first yellow card of the evening here for his tackle on Eden Hazard from behind, 40 minutes gone and it is 0-0
Jul 3, 2018 12:06 am (IST)
Hazard with the shot but Yoshida is in the way and comes up with a great block, quickly approaching half-time now, 36 minutes gone and it is 0-0
Jul 3, 2018 12:02 am (IST)
Inui with a great chance for Japan after Nagatomo's cross finds him, but his header is straight at Courtois. 32 minutes gone here and it is still 0-0
Jul 2, 2018 11:59 pm (IST)
Hazard with the shot there which goalkeeper Kawashima palms away, constant pressure from Belgium but still no goal
Jul 2, 2018 11:56 pm (IST)
Big chance that, Lukaku escapes from his marker Yoshida but the ball gets tangled up in his feet there, he can't get a shot away. That was a great cross though from Meunier.
Jul 2, 2018 11:51 pm (IST)
20 minutes gone here and though Japan started well, Belgium have really got a foot in the game. Lukaku getting involved a lot more but Japanese defence has been resilient so far.
Jul 2, 2018 11:45 pm (IST)
Shoji and Shibasaki double-up on Carrasco to stop the Belgian winger from posing any threat, Belgium slowly starting to find their feet here
"The so-called 'golden generation' wasn't playing today," said Martinez, trumpeting Belgium's strength in depth to come.
Browaeys has been part of a project to produce a new style of play and to maximise a small country's talent pool that was born out of shame at Belgium's poor showing as co-hosts of Euro 2000 with their more successful neighbours the Dutch. Eighteen years later, that "golden generation" of players like Hazard, Kevin De Bruyne and Romelu Lukaku, produced by that system of teaching ball skills and vision from a young age in a network of youth clubs and schools, were the top scoring team the first round in Russia and believe nothing is beyond them. Now, said Browaeys, "It's the moment that they have to play for first place ... You need luck ... but I'm convinced that it's possible. The players and the staff know this."