Belgium completed a remarkable revival as they came from the World Cup abyss and beat Japan to reach the quarter-finals.
Below are five thoughts from the game.
BELGIUM’S SLOW TEMPO IN THE FINAL THIRD
In the first half, Belgium bossed the possession with 55% but the problem was their slow tempo when they got into Japan’s final third. Out of 6 shots by the Belgians, only 2 were on goal. The attacking set of De Bryune, Yannick Carassco, Dries Mertens, Eden Hazard and Romelu Lukaku weren’t quick enough with their combination play.
BELGIUM MAKES HISTORY
Belgium becomes only the second team in history to come from 2 goals down in a world cup knockout game since West Germany achieved that feat against England in the 1972 world cup.
BELGIUM NOT SUITED TO THE 3-4-3?
In the second half, Japan exposed the flaws in Belgium’s 3-4-3 formation by overloading the midfield. That way, Kevin De Bryune and Axel Witsel couldn’t move the ball forward. The spaces vacated by Belgium’s wingbacks were also exploited by the Japanese. This brings about genuine concerns about Yannick Carrasco and Kevin De Bruyne’s ideal positions. I honestly think that Carrasco isn’t suited to the wing back position neither is Kevin suited to being a holding midfielder. Martinez should consider switching to a 4-2-3-1 or 4-3-3 formation in order to free De Bryune and Carrasco of excessive defending duties.
ROBERTO MARTINEZ’S TACTICAL RESPONSE
Realising that Belgium was getting outnumbered in midfield, Martinez replaced Dries Mertens with Marouane Fellaini, Yannick Carrasco with Nacer Chadli and switched to a back 4. The impact was almost immediate as the Belgians wrestled the initiative from the Japanese by winning the midfield battle. That also prevented the Japanese from getting spaces to exploit on the flanks. It proved to be a masterstroke as substitutes Fellaini and Chadli both scored.
WHAT WAS JAPAN THINKING?
It is amazing why Japan committed most players forward with that last gasp free-kick. The Japanese were undone by their lack of intelligence and tactical awareness. With the game poised for an extra time, the Japanese should have been more cautious and shouldn’t have committed so many men forward. Should Japan have defended deep when they went 2-0 up?