In yet another highly entertaining match at this World Cup, Nacer Chadli scored with the last touch of the match to complete a second half comeback and send Belgium through to the quarterfinals.
The Belgians were expected to roll past Japan with ease, but it didn’t pan out that way on the pitch.
The Red Devils controlled possession throughout the first half, keeping Japan’s defence under constant pressure.
But Japan grew into the game as halftime approached, and shocked everyone on the other side of the break.
Japanese winger Genki Haraguchi capitalised on a mistake by Belgian centre half Jan Vertonghen to fire the Samurai Blue ahead in the 48th minute.
Just four minutes later, Takashi Inui doubled the advantage with a wonderful strike from the top of the box that arrowed into the bottom corner.
It looked as though Belgium would be the next favorite to fall victim to an upset, but a three-goal surge in the final 25 minutes was a testament to their fighting spirit.
Vertonghen got the momentum started in the 69th minute when his looping header from a tight angle somehow found the net, redeeming him for his earlier mistake.
Marouane Fellaini then rose and headed home the equaliser off a well-placed cross from Eden Hazard.
Both teams created chances in the game’s dying stages, but a lethal Belgian counterattack in the final minute of stoppage time gave the Red Devils the winning goal.
Romelu Lukaku’s expert dummy let the ball trickle right to an unmarked Chadli, who polished off the move to complete the comeback.
Though they are now eliminated, Japan deserve credit for playing an open and inventive style of football.
The victory for Belgium sets up a quarterfinal showdown with Brazil on Friday.
If they can find the same passing rhythm and combination play they showed glimpses of in this match and the group stages, they’ll be very difficult to beat.
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