Belgium comeback breaks Japan hearts at the death
BELGIUM 2 (Vertonghen 69’, Fellaini, 74’, Chadli 90+4’)
JAPAN 2 (Haraguchi 48’, Inui 52’)
By Caleb Lawrence
Belgium has come from two goals down against Japan to score a stoppage-time winner with virtually the last kick of the match to secure a 3-2 victory and a place in the quarter-finals.
The Japanese were on the brink of one of the upsets of the tournament when they led 2-0 with a little more than 20 minutes to go.
But goals for Belgium to Jan Vertonghen and Marouane Fellaini in a five-minutes spell set-up the thrilling conclusion for Nacer Chadli, who was on the end of a Belgium counter-attack that went the length of the field to score in the final 30 seconds of added time.
Belgium’s great escape means they will play Brazil in a clash of two of the tournament favourites in the final eight.
After a scoreless first half, Japan struck first through Genki Haraguchi in the 48th minute after a quick counter-attack caught Belgium napping.
A precise through-ball put the Japanese midfielder in behind the Belgium defence and from a tight angle he fired across keeper Thibaut Courtois and just inside the far post.
Four minutes later, Japan doubled its lead when Takashi Inui unleashed a shot from outside the penalty area that left Courtois with no chance as it arrowed into the right-hand corner of the net.
It's 4:18 in Tokyo.
— FIFA World Cup ???? (@FIFAWorldCup) July 2, 2018
Belgium was staring at World Cup elimination and looked to the bench for inspiration with a double substitution that saw Fellaini and Chadli enter the game in the 65th minute.
And just four minutes later, the revival began. A skied clearance from a corner was coming down on the left-hand edge of the penalty area and Vertonghen’s header flew almost 20 metres as it arced over the Japanese keeper’s head and into the far corner.
Belgium then found an equaliser when Eden Hazard twisted and turned on the left-hand edge of the penalty area before sending over a perfectly-flighted cross for substitute Fellaini to head home from the edge of the six-yard box.
— Belgian Red Devils (@BelRedDevils) July 2, 2018
The match looked to be heading for extra time with Japan content to hold the ball in the middle third of the pitch.
In the final minute of stoppage time, Japan looked to have one last chance to snatch a win when Keisuke Honda swung in a corner from the left.
It was gathered safely by Courtois who then quickly rolled the ball to Kevin De Bruyne in space and the midfielder ran half-the-pitch before releasing the ball into the path of Thomas Meunier.
His cross from the right was aimed at Romelu Lukaku but the centre forward dummied and let the ball run through to an unmarked Nacer Chadli who side-footed the winner from just near the penalty spot, breaking Japanese hearts.
— Simon Mignolet (@SMignolet) July 2, 2018
Belgium: T. Courtois (GK), T. Alderweireld, V. Kompany, J. Vertonghen, T. Meunier, K. De Bruyne, A. Witsel, Y. Ferreira Carrasco (65’), D. Mertens (65’), E. Hazard, R. Lukaku
Substitutes used: M. Fellaini 65’, N. Chadli 65’
Japan: E. Kawashima (GK), Y. Nagatomo, G. Shoji, M. Yoshida, H. Sakai, M. Hasebe, G. Shibasaki (81’), G. Haraguchi (81’), S. Kagawa, T. Inui, Y. Osako
Substitutes used: H. Yamaguchi (81’), K. Honda (81’)