#WorldCupAtHome: Belgium turn the tables on Japan
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Belgium complete last-gasp comeback against Japan
Red Devils score winner with textbook counter-attack
With a flawless performance in the group stage, where they defeated Panama, Tunisia, and England to top their section, Belgium went into the Round of 16 as firm favourites.
Japan, who fired their head coach Vahid Halilhodzic just a few months ahead of the FIFA World Cup™ and started the tournament with new man Akira Nishino at the helm, struggled in the group stage, where they beat Colombia, drew with Senegal and lost to Poland, only advancing to the knockout phase at the expense of the Senegalese on fair play points.
Belgium 3-2 Japan 2 July 2018, Rostov Arena, Rostov-On-Don
Goalscorers: Haraguchi (48'), Inui (52'); Vertonghen (69'), Fellaini (74'), Chadli (90'+4)
Line-ups: Belgium: Thibaut Courtois, Toby Alderweireld, Vincent Kompany, Jan Vertonghen, Thomas Meunier, Axel Witsel, Kevin De Bruyne, Yannick Carrasco (Nacer Chadli 65'), Romelu Lukaku, Eden Hazard, Dries Mertens (Marouane Fellaini 65')
Japan: Eiji Kawashima, Gen Shoji, Yuto Nagatomo, Hiroki Sakai, Maya Yoshida, Gaku Shibasaki, (Keisuke Honda 81’), Genki Haraguchi (Hotaru Yamaguchi 81’), Shinji Kagawa, Takashi Inui, Makoto Hasebe, Yuya Osako
Belgium arrived in Russia with what many considered their best ever side and clear designs on the title. Four years earlier at Brazil 2014, a young Red Devils squad were not yet at their peak, while a disappointing campaign at UEFA EURO 2016 ramped up pressure and expectations for Russia 2018. After three wins from three in the group stage, they came up against a resolute Japan team with ambitions of their own.
Japan, for their part, went into the game as underdogs and under considerably less pressure. Under newly-appointed coach Nishino, the Samurai Blue knew they were up against one of the title favourites and would need to be tactically disciplined, effective on the break and clinical in front of goal if they were to prevail.
Two super subs: Belgium were two goals down when Roberto Martinez made two key substitutions. On 65 minutes, he replaced Mertens and Carrasco with Fellaini and Chadli. Vertonghen cut the deficit shortly afterwards, before Fellaini levelled the tie by heading home a Hazard cross. It then fell to Chadli to shatter Japan’s dream by sealing victory in the dying seconds.
Classic counter-attack: With extra time seemingly inevitable after a late Japan corner came to nothing, Courtois rolled the ball out to De Bruyne, who raced half the length of the field in a classic counter-attack. The midfielder then pushed the ball into the path of Meunier, whose low cross was dummied by Lukaku, allowing Chadli to sidefoot it into the corner from six yards.
Despite only coming on in the 65th minute, Chadli made a decisive contribution. Not only did he score, but he also proved an effective substitute for Mertens. The winger carried a threat on both flanks and seemed to have a telepathic understanding with Hazard. He was in his own box when Courtois threw the ball to Kevin De Bruyne but sprinted the length of the pitch to be in the opposition area to slot home the Red Devils’ winner.
What they said
"We had many chances to score and after we went 2-0 down but had to find a way to come back. We have to congratulate Japan on their performance – it’s clear they prepared well for the game and we struggled in penetrating their defence. They scored twice which made our life more difficult, but our character, along with brilliant performances from Fellaini and Chadli, made the difference in the end." Roberto Martinez, Belgium coach
"We were very good in the first half, but things went wrong at the beginning of the second. The two goals we conceded were both avoidable, but the reaction we showed was great. This is the type of match we need. We were almost eliminated, so we’re all really happy to go through." Eden Hazard, Belgium forward
"We played very well and came close to winning, but a good counter-attack made the difference for them. It’s disappointing how we lost. We prepared very well for the game and were getting ready for extra time, but we still lost having been two goals up." Akira Nishino, Japan coach
Gallery: Belgium 3-2 Japan
Belgium players applauds fans after their victory over Japan
ROSTOV-ON-DON, RUSSIA - JULY 02: Belgium players applauds fans after their victory in the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia Round of 16 match between Belgium and Japan at Rostov Arena on July 2, 2018 in Rostov-on-Don, Russia. (Photo by Lars Baron - FIFA/FIFA via Getty Images)
Marouane Fellaini of Belgium celebrates after scoring his team's second goal against Japan
ROSTOV-ON-DON, RUSSIA - JULY 02: Marouane Fellaini of Belgium celebrates after scoring his team's second goal during the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia Round of 16 match between Belgium and Japan at Rostov Arena on July 2, 2018 in Rostov-on-Don, Russia. (Photo by Lars Baron - FIFA/FIFA via Getty Images)
What happened next
After seeing off Japan in the Round of 16, the Red Devils had a fantastic win over Brazil in the quarter-finals, setting up a last-four showdown with eventual champions France. Despite being on top for long spells, Martinez’s men could find no way past a solid Bleus defence, with the match ultimately settled by a solitary Samuel Umtiti strike.