Belgium shock brilliant Japan, enter quarters
Rostov-on-Don [Russia], July 03: World No. 3 Belgium edged past Japan in the dying moments of a five-goal thriller at the Rostov Arena, completing a comeback from a two-goal deficit in the round-of-16 of the ongoing FIFA World Cup 2018.
Substitute Nacer Chadli scored in the 94th minute of injury time to overturn yet another upset in the World Cup, after the Red Devils had nullified Japan’s two-goal lead through Jan Vertonghen and Marouane Fellaini, becoming the first team to come from two goals down in a World Cup knockout game since West Germany knocked out England in 1970.
The first half of the match was hardly an indicator for what was to come, with a blocked Axel Witsel effort and a stray Vincent Kompany shot from a Kevin de Bruyne cross the only meaningful chances Belgium managed to create.
The first real scare for Belgium in the goalless first half arrived just before the interval when goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois spilt a tame Yuya Osako effort, although he managed to gather it before it trickled past the goal line.
The second half saw Japan coming out all guns blazing, scoring two brilliant goals within seven minutes of the restart to give them a real chance of making it to their first-ever World Cup quarter-finals.
The first Japanese goals came from a rapid counter-attack that was initiated from the edge of their box after a Belgian attack broke down, with Genki Haraguchi latching onto a Gaku Shibasaki pass and emphatically driving his shot past Courtois.
Belgium almost equalised immediately with Chelsea star Eden Hazard, found by Dries Mertens inside the box, striking his effort against the post.
Japan managed to double their lead in the 52nd minute, as a Shinji Kagawa pass was collected by Takashi Inui just outside the Belgian box, who unleashed a magnificent curler into the bottom right-hand corner beyond an outstretched Courtois.
Romelu Lukaku soon squandered his best chance of the night to draw level with English striker Harry Kane in the race for the Golden Boot, as he headed a Thomas Meunier cross wide from point-blank range.
The Belgians soon initiated their comeback in the 69th minute through Vertonghen, who looped a header from an uncleared corner beyond Eiji Kawashima in goal.
Five minutes later, a dangerous Eden Hazard cross into the box was met by substitute Fellaini, who nodded past Kawashima.
The Japanese keeper then made a string of brilliant saves, with the most noteworthy of them being a double save he pulled off at the 85-minute mark, keeping out headers from Meunier and Lukaku in succession.
However, he was breached in the final minute of stoppage time with a deadly counterattack, started by Courtois after he claimed a Japanese corner.
Kevin de Bruyne slipped in Meunier with a terrific pass, whose low cross was first dummied by Lukaku for substitute Chadli to prod in for the winner.
With the win, Belgium will face tournament favourites Brazil in the quarterfinals on July 6 in Kazan Arena.