Day 18 Summary: Chadli breaks Japanese hearts & Neymar annoys the world
Belgium 3-2 Japan
Last night saw yet another all time classic World Cup match as infancied Japan took on the superstars of Belgium. You’d never have thought it would go that way after a passive first half with Japan seemingly content to contain their illustrious opponents. But early in the second half Jan Vertonghen missed a routine clearance allowing Genki Haraguchi to get in down the left flank and hit a beautiful shot that beat Thibaut Courtois and nestled in the right corner. Belgium almost had an instant response when Eden Hazard hit a fierce shot against the post. But within 4 minutes Japan had doubled their advantage when Shinji Kagawa intercepted a clearance and played a short pass to Takashi Inui who lashed home a stunning 25 yard shot.
Belgium looked stunned and Roberto Martinez made a double change bringing on battering ram midfielder Marouane Fellaini & winger Nacer Chadli. Belgium were throwing men forward and Romelu Lukaku missed a simple chance to pull a goal back but just as it seemed Japan had weathered the storm Belgium got a fortunate equaliser: a corner forced a defensive header that appeared to be clearing the box but fell towards Veetonghen on the corner of the box who cushioned a header aimed back into the danger zone but looped over Eiji Kawashima an in 2-1. With renewed hope the Belgians starting bombarding the Japanese box with crosses and just 5 minutes later Fellaini rose highest to power home another header for 2-2.
But the highest drama came in the final minute of injury time as Japan pushed forward for a corner, Courtois caught it and released Kevin De Bruyne on a surging run through midfield and released a perfect ball for Thomas Meaner down the right who crossed and Chadli nipped in behind Lukaku to push home with the last kick of the game and secure a stunning victory.
Brazil 2-0 Mexico
Mexico hav never beaten Brazil at a World Cup but roared out of the blocks in this one, sending the ball wide and for 30 minutes pushing onto Brazil’s fullbacks with Hirving Lozano a persistent menace. But they created few clear-cut chances and Brazil retained their composure whilst Neymar showed some great close control to trick his way into the box but fired straight at the Guillermo Ochoa.
In the second half Brazil’s powerful midfield pairing of Paulinho & Casemiro began to dominate and Mexico struggled to hold back the rising tide of yellow shirts. And on 51 minutes Mexican resistance was broken as Neymar played in Willian who sprinted down the right of Mexico’s box to deliver a perfect cross for the main man to ghost in and tap home for Brazil. The game was quickly becoming the Neymar show and not entirely for positive reasons- he went down in a heap at the side of the pitch and after the slightest of touches rolled around like a gymnast in an attempt to get a player sent off. In fairness Neymar has been fouled more than any other player at this tournament but he’s becoming widely despised for his antics. But Neymar eventually picked himself up to produce a surging run down the wing and played in substitute Roberto Firmino for a simple tap in and a 2-0 win. And now we have a true meeting of superstars in the quarter finals with Brazil set to face Belgium.
Day 19 Preview
Switzerland vs Sweden
This won’t be game for the purist with 2 tough counter attacking sides squaring up in St Petersburg. Sweden have been galvanised by losing that late goal against Germany and blew Mexico away with their physical power and some excellent finishing. Switzerland have plenty of quality but as we’ve seen time and again lack a prolific striker.
This will be an attritional game with defences likely to be on top and would really benefit from an early goal. I think this one will go all the way in the afternoon sun and will probably end in a penalty shootout.
Prediction: Switzerland 1-1 Sweden (Switzerland to win on penalties)
England vs Colombia
England have impressed so far, at least when they play their best 11 whilst Colombia have been erratic. The game offers a clash in styles between England’s high pressing game and Colombia’s counter attacking. Key for Colombia will be the fitness of James Rodriguez who knits the side together but went off early against Senegal and may not be fit enough to start. England will look as ever to Harry Kane and the pacey duo of Jesse Lingard & Raheem Sterling. Both have good set piece games but England appear to have more dynamism particularly if James is missing.
England are marginal favourites but haven’t won a knockout game in 12 years and will need a good start.
Prediction: England 2-1 Colombia