Belgium showed their fighting qualities as Nacer Chadli’s 94th-minute strike completed a thrilling 3-2 comeback victory over Japan in their World Cup last-16 clash in Rostov.
Roberto Martinez’s side were overwhelming favourites to progress to the quarter-finals after pipping England as winners of Group G but two goals in four minutes from Genki Haraguchi (48) and Takashi Inui (52) gave Japan a shock 2-0 lead.
Jan Vertonghen’s looping header (69) gave Belgium hope before substitute Marouane Fellaini’s trademark finish (74) from Eden Hazard’s cross brought the scores level.
With the last kick of the game, a sweeping counter-attack was finished off with Chadli at the far post as Belgium progress to face Brazil in the last eight on Friday at the Kazan Arena.
Belgium: Courtois (6), Alderweireld (6), Kompany (7), Vertonghen (6), Meunier (7), De Bruyne (6), Witsel (6), Carrasco (4), Mertens (6), Hazard (7), Lukaku (6)
Subs: Fellaini (7), Chadli (7)
Japan: Kawashima (7), Shoji (7), Nagatomo (7), Sakai (7), Yoshida (8), Shibasaki (7), Haraguchi (7), Kagawa (7), Inui (8), Hasebe (7), Osako (7)
Subs: Yamaguchi (6), Honda (6)
Man of the match: Maya Yoshida
The Belgians booked a third successive quarter-final spot at a major tournament despite a resolute performance from Japan, whose quest to reach the last eight of a World Cup continues after seeing their valiant efforts come to nothing.
Akira Nishino’s men crawled into the last 16 via a superior fair-play record to Senegal, and Shinji Kagawa fired a warning sign inside a minute after dragging a left-foot shot a yard wide.
Yuya Osako almost embarrassed Thibaut Courtois when his loose touch initially squirmed through the legs of the Chelsea ‘keeper before he pounced on the ball before it crossed the line, but it was only until the second period that the game sparked into life.
After making nine changes to face England, Roberto Martinez reverted back to the same starting XI that beat Tunisia 5-2 barring one alteration. Vincent Kompany replaced Dedryck Boyata in defence.
Japan head coach Akira Nishino reverted to the same starting XI that drew 2-2 with Senegal in Ekaterinburg having rested six players in the 1-0 defeat by Poland.
Gaku Shibasaki’s sliding pass beyond Vertonghen was swept into the bottom corner by Haraguchi and, after Dries Mertens’ cutback was volleyed against the post by Hazard, a thunderbolt from Inui left Belgium staring down the barrel of defeat.
Sublime control from Kagawa set up the Real Betis-bound midfielder, and he had time and space to pick his spot as he curled a right-footed shot low to the right of Courtois’ desperate dive.
But after Romelu Lukaku headed wide from five yards out, Belgium were handed a lifeline as Inui’s failed clearance landed on the head of Vertonghen, and the Tottenham defender’s looped header back into the box fortuitously found the far corner.
Fellaini’s close-range header from Hazard’s cross five minutes later restored parity before Eiji Kawashima did well to tip over another aerial attempt from Lukaku, but just as the game appeared to be drifting towards extra time, Belgium broke Japanese hearts in devastating fashion.
Within 10 seconds of defending a corner, Kevin De Bruyne broke at pace to combine with Thomas Meunier down the right and after Lukaku dummied the wing-back’s cross, substitute Chadli made no mistake in stroking the ball under Kawashima.
- Belgium are the first team to come from 2+ goals down to win a World Cup knockout stage match within 90 minutes since Portugal beat DPR Korea in the 1966 quarter-final (0-3 down, 5-3 win).
- Belgium have reached the World Cup quarter-finals in successive tournaments for the first time.
- Belgium have never kept a clean sheet in their 12 World Cup knockout round matches, shipping 28 goals in total.
- Japan have scored six goals at the 2018 World Cup, their highest ever tally in a single World Cup tournament.
- There were just four minutes and 16 seconds between Japan’s two goals, and just four minutes and 30 seconds between Belgium’s two to level the scores.
- There have now been nine 90th minute winning goals in the 2018 World Cup. There were just 10 in the previous five tournaments combined (1998, 2002, 2006, 2010 and 2014).
- Eden Hazard has been directly involved in 19 goals in his 18 games for Belgium under Roberto Martinez, scoring 10 and assisting nine.
- Takashi Inui is only the third player to have scored multiple goals in a World Cup tournament for Japan, after Junichi Inamoto in 2002 (2) and Keisuke Honda in 2010 (2).
Man of the match – Maya Yoshida
Yoshida epitomised Japan’s dogged resilience having kept Lukaku subdued throughout a pulsating 90 minutes at the Rostov Arena.
The Southampton defender has not always enjoyed coming up against the big striker during their Premier League tussles, but Lukaku’s failure to continue his hot streak of form owed largely to Yoshida’s refusal to afford him space.
This was a colossal performance from the 29-year-old, who threw his body at countless shots as Belgium began their bombardment of Japan’s goal, but his efforts proved in vain as one of the pre-tournament favourites found a way to win.
Brazil await Belgium in the last eight in Kazan on Friday night, while Japan’s wait to reach the World Cup quarter-finals goes on having matched their previous best-ever finish at the tournament in South Africa 2014.