Round robin group play has wrapped up in Japan, with the co-hosts beating Tunisia 2-0 in Osaka and Belgium topping Russia 3-2 in Shizuoka. The results mean Japan captures Group H with seven points, while Belgium also advances to the second round with five points.
Belgium opened the scoring in the seventh minute, as Johan Walem sent a curling free kick into the Russian net from 23 meters. Though Russia led in ball possession, the Red Devils had the best scoring chances and led 1-0 at the half.
The Russians took control early in the second half, as Vladimir Beschastnykh took a fine touch from Dmitri Sytchev and equalized from nine meters in the 52nd minute. Belgium battled back with goals in the 78th from substitute Wesley Sonck and Mark Wilmots in the 82nd to go ahead 3-1. Sytchev made it 3-2 in the 88th, but the Belgians held on to book a spot in the second round. Belgian coach Robert Waseige says his substitutions worked out. "I was very lucky the way I changed the players," he said through an interpreter, "because the player scored a goal. The players fought hard for it, and I really think we deserved it, and I am happy to be here."
Playing in front of chanting home fans in Osaka, Japan was unable to break through a stubborn Tunisian defense in the first half. But the co-hosts broke the deadlock in the 48th, as a loose ball ended up on the foot of Hiroaki Morishima. His drive into the net gave the hosts the 1-0 lead. Hidetoshi Nakata sealed Japan's group victory with a 75th minute goal to make the final 2-0. Japan coach Phillippe Troussier says advancing is the end of a long process.
"We've had the public behind us, a great support here in Japan," he said, "And with each match we have developed momentum and that has carried us on from one match to another, and now to qualification from the first round."
On Saturday, the second round gets under way with Denmark and England squaring off in Niigata, while Germany and Paraguay start the knock-out stage in South Korea.