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Japan hopes unified effort can trump Belgium’s individual talent

Kyodo

Japan is under no illusions that they will be anything but a massive underdog in its World Cup round-of-16 match against a star-studded Belgium side, defender Maya Yoshida said Saturday.

The 29-year-old, who as a center back for Premier League club Southampton regularly faces some of the big names lining up for Belgium, said Japan will need a collective effort if it is to overcome a team with far greater individual talent.

“Individually they are much better, that’s 100 percent for sure,” Yoshida said. “But as a unit we can make a huge difference. Sometimes unity can beat individuals. So I hope we can organize very well as a team.”

Belgium’s golden generation, which includes Premier League stars Eden Hazard, Kevin De Bruyne, Romelu Lukaku and Vincent Kompany, has been tipped for big things at the current tournament after falling to eventual finalist Argentina in the 2014 quarterfinals.

Though Belgium’s impressive attack has garnered most of the headlines, the team is also anchored at the back by a trio of the Premier League’s best defenders in Manchester City’s Kompany alongside Tottenham Hotspur pair Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen.

While Yoshida plans to give teammates his firsthand insights into the England-based players in the Belgium lineup, he said they already had a clear picture of the challenge awaiting them in Rostov-on-Don.

“Now many people watch the Premier League,” Yoshida said. “Of course I’m going to tell (my teammates) some advice, and my opinion, but they understand how difficult it is. They understand one thing can make a big difference, and we have to fight as a unit, so that’s the key of the game.”

Acknowledging that luck had played a part in Japan reaching the knockout stage ahead of Group H rival Senegal through the “fair play” tie-breaker, the defender said the team would need another dose of good fortune to achieve its goal of advancing to the quarterfinals for the first time.

“Always in life you need luck, and football is part of life,” he said. “(Reaching the quarterfinals) was my dream. And that was our biggest aim for this tournament. If we can win the next game, it will be a dream come true. It’s going to be another massive step in the history of Japanese football.”