Romelu Lukaku Belgium
Romelu Lukaku has overcome an ankle injuryand is expected to start for Belgium against JapanRichard Heathcote/Getty Images

Eden Hazard, Kevin de Bruyne and Romelu Lukaku are all set to return to the Belgium starting XI when the Europeans face off against Japan in the last 16 of the Fifa World Cup 2018.

Belgium were one of only three teams – along with Uruguay and Croatia – to finish with a perfect record in the group stages, winning all three of their matches in Group G.

After a couple of comprehensive wins over Panama and Tunisia, a much-changed Belgium XI got the job done against England, with Adnan Januzaj scoring the winner in a 1-0 win.

So, despite Roberto Martinez making a raft of changes to his starting XI against England, there was no quelling of momentum, which is a good thing as Belgium prepare for Japan.

The Blue Samurai booked their place in the last 16 in controversial circumstances.

Having finished level on points with Senegal, who lost their final group game to Colombia, Japan sneaked through on Fifa's new fair play rule, after both Japan and the African side finished equal on points, goal difference, goals scored and goals against.

What rankled was not the fact that Japan got through on this new rule, but the manner in which they did it. With Colombia leading against Senegal, the Japan manager asked his players to cut out the risks, not try to score a goal, despite trailing 1-0 to Poland, and ensure the match finishes with no further change to the scoreline.

There won't be any room for such tactics in a knockout.

Vincent Kompany Belgium
Vincent Kompany got some much needed playing time against EnglandDan Mullan/Getty Images

Team news:


Martinez made a whole host of changes to his lineup in the last game, with the likes of Hazard, De Bruyne, Axel Witsel, Jan Vertonghen, Toby Alderweireld and Dries Mertens all rested, while Lukaku missed out due to an ankle injury.

All of them will return for this match against Japan, with Martinez confident that Lukaku, with four goals in two games in this Fifa World Cup 2018, has overcome his injury. "Lukaku is fully fit, he trained and has no problems," Martinez said. "He'll be available, 100 per cent."

Vincent Kompany, yet to start a single game in this Fifa World Cup, could also feature from the beginning, after getting some minutes against England. If Martinez deems playing the injury-prone Kompany too much of a risk, then Dedryck Boyata could keep his place or Thomas Vermaelen, another defender just returning from injury, could get the nod.

Januzaj, the goal hero from the last game, is a doubt after picking up a knock on his knee in training.

Shinji Okazaki Japan
Shinji Okazaki is struggling with injury ahead of the match against BelgiumCarl Court/Getty Images


One of their key players – Shinji Okazaki – is a doubt with an ankle injury, with the Japan coach Akira Nishino set to take a late call on the Leicester City forward. If Okazaki is ruled out, then Yuya Osako is likely to be the replacement.

The skipper Makoto Hasebe will return to the midfield for Japan, while Takashi Inui will also hope to feature in the starting XI.

Expected starting XI:

Belgium: Thibaut Courtois; Toby Alderweireld, Vincent Kompany, Jan Vertonghen; Thomas Meunier, Axel Witsel, Kevin de Bruyne, Yannick Carrasco; Dries Mertens, Eden Hazard; Romelu Lukaku.

Japan: Eiji Kawashima; Hiroki Sakai, Maya Yoshida, Gen Shoji, Yuto Nagatomo; Makoto Hasebe, Gaku Shibasaki; Genki Haraguchi, Shinji Kagawa, Takashi Inui; Yuya Osako.