Belgium overpower Japan at the death in World Cup classic

Gabriel Tan Gabriel Tan

Belgium are through to the 2018 FIFA World Cup quarter-finals after coming from behind to beat Japan 3-2 in a thrilling Round of 16 tie at the Rostov Arena.

Following a goalless first half, it initially looked as though the Samurai Blue were going to pull off a huge upset as goals after the break from Genki Haraguchi and Takashi Inui put them 2-0 up.

But Belgium coach Roberto Martinez pulled off a masterstroke as substitutes Marouane Fellaini and Nacer Chadli both scored – the latter in the 94th minute – after Jan Vertonghen had pulled one back to help complete an amazing come-from-behind triumph.

The result means that the Belgians will now meet Brazil in a tantalising quarter-final clash, while the Round of 16 is once again the furthest Japan have reached.

Yet, Akira Nishino’s charges can leave Russia with their heads held high for the manner in which they almost stunned their heavily-fancied opponents.

The contest was barely a minute old when Shinji Kagawa fired his side’s first warning shot although, by and large, Belgium looked the more dangerous of the two sides in the opening 45.

Lukaku spurns Belgium’s first real chance.

Romelu Lukaku narrowly failed to connect with a Dries Mertens cross from a yard out in the 25th minute after showing good strength to hold off Maya Yoshida, before Hazard’s 25-yard drive two minutes later called Eiji Kawashima into action.

A lapse in concentration from Belgium goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois did nearly hand the Japanese the lead a minute before halftime, when he fumbled a harmless ball through his legs but recovered in time to gather.

A clinical strike by Haraguchi opened the scoring for Japan.

Just three minutes after the restart, however, the Samurai Blue took the lead when a Vertonghen failed in his attempt to intercept Gaku Shibasaki’s searching pass, allowing Haraguchi to advance into the area and steady before clinically lashing a shot into the far corner.

Eden Hazard was unlucky not to equalise with a ferocious effort a minute later but, in the 52nd minute, Japan stunned the opposition once more.

A fine effort by Hazard kept out by the woodwork.

Pouncing on a headed clearance by Vincent Kompany, Kagawa kept his cool to retain possession and lay it off to Inui, who proceeded to unleash a spectacular curling strike beyond Courtois’ despairing dive.

Inui’s second goal of the tournament was even better than his first.

By now, Belgium had it all to do and the last team to come from two goals down to win a World Cup knockout round match was Germany against England in 1970.

Lukaku spurned another good opportunity when he sent a free header wide from a Thomas Meunier cross in the 62nd minute, although the Red Devils only had to wait seven more minutes to reduce the deficit.

There appeared to be little danger when Shibasaki’s clearance sent the ball high into the sky but Vertonghen watched it all the way and – from a near-impossible angle – somehow steered a sublime header over Kawashima and into the far corner.

A quite miraculous header by Vertonghen creeps in at the far post.

Then, in the 74th minute, Fellaini made the impact Martinez would have been hoping from him when he sent him on just after the hour mark.

A lovely turn by Hazard created the space he needed to hang up a lovely cross from the left, and Fellaini did not need a second invitation to tower above Makoto Hasebe and nod home.

Fellaini doing what he does best.

As the game entered its closing stages, extra-time beckoned but neither side showed any intention to settle for another 30 minutes, which the neutrals were definitely wishing for.

Kawashima recovered well from an unconvincing save off a Chadli effort to tip over a firm header from Lukaku in the 86th minute, before a botched interception by Axel Witsel required Courtois to be alert at his near post.

Then, in the third minute of injury-time, Keisuke Honda tried his luck with a fizzing 35-yard freekick but Courtois was once again equal to the task with a flying save at full stretch.

However, Japan’s sense of adventure even at the death proved to be their downfall as, from the resultant corner, the Belgians hit on the counter.

Chadli finishes from close range to break Japanese hearts.

Kevin De Bruyne led the charge through the middle before slipping in Meunier, whose low cross was dummied by Lukaku and Chadli was on hand to beat Kawashima with a simple finish, sealing Belgium’s jubilation but also heartbreak for their brave opponents.

BELGIUM: Thibaut Courtois, Toby Alderweireld, Vincent Kompany, Jan Vertonghen, Thomas Meunier, Axel Witsel, Kevin De Bruyne, Yannick Carrasco (Nacer Chadli 65’), Dries Mertens (Marouane Fellaini 65’), Eden Hazard, Romelu Lukaku.

JAPAN: Eiji Kawashima, Hiroki Sakai, Maya Yoshida, Gen Shoji, Yuto Nagatomo, Gaku Shibasaki (Hotaru Yamaguchi 81’), Makoto Hasebe, Genki Haraguchi (Keisuke Honda 81’), Shinji Kagawa, Takashi Inui, Yuya Osako.