Japan defender Gen Shoji is braced for the challenge of facing Romelu Lukaku at the World Cup, but he knows the Manchester United striker will not be Belgium’s only attacking option in Rostov-on-Don.
Lukaku has been highlighted as the chief threat of the Red Devils against a Japan backline that could struggle to cope with the pace and power of the in-form 25-year-old during the round-of-16 tie.
He will be joined in attack by the likes of Eden Hazard and Dries Mertens, though, leaving Shoji to remind the media of the talent at Roberto Martinez’s disposal.
‘It’s not just Lukaku in the Belgium team,’ he said. ‘It’s star-studded. Therefore, as the opposition, I’m looking forward to facing them.
‘I do feel I will be faced with Lukaku quite a lot. In preparation of the match, I think I have to overcome him mentally.
‘Yes, we are facing Belgium, a formidable foe, but I’d like to be mentally prepared.’
Head coach Akira Nishino, meanwhile, revealed he has held lengthy conversations with goalkeeper Eiji Kawashima after some uncharacteristic mistakes in Japan’s first two matches of the group stage.
‘He’s a perfectionist,’ Nishino said.
‘[After] the first and second matches, I actually had a chat with him, personally. His position, his play, we discussed for quite a long time.
‘He’s the only one who’s played as a goalkeeper in Europe. And he self-analysed his play very well.’
Echoing the earlier thoughts of Belgium counterpart Martinez, Nishino also expressed his scepticism about the value of practicing penalties ahead of a possible shoot-out.
‘I’m asked this question almost every single day, in terms of a penalty shoot-out, of course, it’s something that I need to decide,’ he said of the likely order of takers.
‘This kind of mental state, you cannot just create that mental state in a training situation.
‘It’s really tense, therefore I don’t think it’s really useful to practice for a penalty shootout per se.
‘We haven’t actually practiced so before we come to that tomorrow, we’d prefer to decide the game [in 90 minutes or extra-time].’