Roberto Martinez says Japan are Belgium’s only priority as they prepare for their World Cup last-16 game and are not looking further ahead.
Belgium beat England 1-0 on Thursday to top Group G and set up a knockout tie with Akira Nishino’s side in Rostov-on-Don, although some had argued before the game that finishing second would mean an easier task.
Martinez’s men could face Mexico or Brazil in the quarter-finals – opposed to a supposedly-easier last-eight match for England against Switzerland or Sweden – although the former Everton manager says he is not thinking beyond Monday’s encounter.
As it happened
“Now we need to focus on Japan, England will play Colombia and if you start thinking any further than that, you’re risking a lot,” said Martiinez.
“The path [to the quarter-finals] from a logistics point of view for us, it was easier to stay in Moscow because the next game would have been there with an extra day of recovery, but the only thing we are concentrating on now is playing Japan.
“You’ve seen that making predictions in the World Cup can be difficult. Germany are out of the competition, I don’t think many people thought that would be a possibility, and I think this World Cup is very unpredictable.
“You need to look into yourself and how strong you can be as a team. We’re not looking at paths, we’re seeing how we can contribute everyone together and Japan is the only priority that we have.
“We played a very entertaining game in Bruges against Japan not long ago, I know there has been a change of coach since then but there hasn’t been a real change in the squad.
“I think it is a really dynamic team, very well organised and technically structured. Japanese football is really strong and we expected a really competitive game. I don’t think there will be big surprises when we face each other.”
Belgium made nine changes to their starting XI for the match in Kaliningrad and Martinez made it clear beforehand that beating England was not their main priority.
“We were very clear from the beginning that we felt winning at all costs wasn’t an option for us, but when you go onto a football pitch, you have to try to win – this is a World Cup and this is a game where you want the players to have the right approach and mentality,” he said.
“We had to spread the responsibility in the group, we had to see who was ready, we had to see the competition for places, we had to see players that were coming from injury situations and that was the case, so the result as a consequence of what we did was welcome and is making us a stronger team, that’s for sure.
“I am delighted especially with the manner of the performance… I saw a group of players who were desperate to contribute. I don’t think in a World Cup you can hope to get an easy path, we saw that in the Euros 2016, I think what you need to do is try and get a group who are in sync and who are desperate to continue and perform for each other.”