Russia 2018 Watch: Belgium bounce back to sink Japan
PUBLISHED: 09:44 03 July 2018 | UPDATED: 09:44 03 July 2018
More World Cup action, more late drama as darkhorses Belgium come from two goals down to snatch an injury-time win over plucky Japan.
The two nations had met on five previous occasions, with the Japanese winning twice to the Belgians’ one victory.
However the Europeans had won their most recent meeting in November 2017: a 1-0 friendly victory, with Manchester United striker Romelu Lukaku the goalscorer.
The only previous World Cup encounter saw Belgium draw 2-2 with the Blue Samurai in 2002, when the East Asians co-hosted the finals with South Korea.
Japan had won just two of their nine matches against European opposition at the World Cup, losing four.
They also hadn’t scored in their previous two matches against European sides, including a 0-0 draw against Greece in 2014 and a 1-0 defeat to Poland (in their previous match).
Meanwhile the Belgians had won three of their six matches against Asian opponents, losing just once.
Belgium’s only previous World Cup fixture to be contested on July 2 saw them lose 3-2 to Germany in the round of 16 in 1994 and they were eager for a reverse against Japan this time round.
Having rested their bigger names for the final group game win over England and quite an uneventful first half, that included a couple of straightforward saves from Eiji Kawashima, the Belgians saw Japan take a surprise lead.
Only three minutes of the second half had been played when Gaku Shibasaki’s through ball managed to evade Tottenham’s Jan Vertonghen and find Genki Haraguchi, who composed himself before firing home into the bottom corner of the net via the far post.
Belgium responded well and very nearly drew level soon after when Chelsea’s Eden Hazard latched onto a Dries Mertens’ pull-back to shoot against the post – with Kawashima well-beaten.
In the 52nd minute, the Blue Samurai added a shock second when Shinji Kagawa teed up Takashi Inui, who fired home into the far corner from outside the area.
However 17 minutes later, Inui was the architect of the goal which brought Belgium back in the game.
The midfielder’s wild clearance from a corner fell to Vertonghen, whose looping header dipped into the back of the net from the edge of the area.
Then, in the 74th minute, the Belgians found an equaliser when Hazard’s teasing delivery was headed home by substitute Marouane Fellaini (10 minutes after his introduction), following a corner.
Both sides looked to snatch a winner as the game edged closer to extra-time, but in the fourth minute of stoppage time the comeback was completed when a swift-counter attack from a Japan corner allowed Kevin De Bruyne to find Thomas Meunier, whose low cross was left by Lukaku and tapped in by substitute Nacer Chadli.
The winner was celebrated by fans and players alike across social media, including former Barcelona and Netherlands striker Patrick Kluivert, who said: “What a switch of the game, Japan really played a good first half. Congrats to the Belgium squad they showed the team spirit until the end. Bravo.”