In the game of the knockout stages so far Belgium came from 2-0 down to beat Japan 3-2 in stoppage with a Nacer Chadli goal. After a lacklustre first half, Japan made a blistering start to the second, with 2 goals in the first seven minutes. But in the end, Belgium managed to get their act together and will now face Brazil on Friday in the quarter-finals.
Japan came out flying in the first half. Using a high press they quickly closed down on the Belgian players, made them play the ball quickly, and produced a number of early turnovers. For the first 15-20 minutes they established a nice pattern to the game and had the better of the early exchanges. They produced very little in the final third, but they were solidly on top.
Belgium finally settled into the game and began getting solid possession and touches in the Japanese area. Again chances were of a premium, although Belgium definitely got into some premium positions with the ball. However, once there they either broke down on the final pass, took a touch too many, or produced a poor end product.
Japan finished on the front foot as Belgium seemed a little frustrated. An even, if slightly subdued first half set the stage for what was to come.
Japan once again started strong, but this time there was an end product after less than 3 minutes. Haraguchi bursting into the penalty area and finishing well past the outstretched hand of Thibault Courtois. It was just 4 minutes later when Inui hit an absolute screamer from outside the area, and the Japanese players celebrated like they’d already won the World Cup.
Belgium didn’t really get their act together until the double substitution of Fellaini and Chadli for Mertens and Carrasco. Largely invisible on the night, the two departing players must now surely fear for their places. It took just 4 minutes for the chances to work as Vertonghen headed home a looping, lucky goal. It looked for all the world like he was just heading the ball back into the danger area, but it looped in the far corner.
Having been on the field just 9 minutes, big man Fellaini headed home to give Belgium level footing. Japan kept coming though and produced some good saves from Courtois. As time ticked away Honda hit a pile-driver of a free-kick from 35 yeards that Courtois did well to turn away for a corner. From the corner, Belgium broke at speed, and Chadli had a simple tap in to win it for Belgium with the last kick of the game.
It was a blistering move worthy of winning any game, but you have to feel for the Japan players. They gave everything they had, but eventually, Belgium had just too much for them.
Belgium Move On To Face Brazil
Questions remain for Belgium. Can this squad of arguably the best players actually pull it together and play like a team? They seem disjointed and lacked any real rhythm for the entire game. Roberto Martinez must also surely address why he continues to play Kevin De Bruyne so deep. He is cutting a very frustrated figure and is wasted playing in his own half. They only have 4 days until they take on Brazil, but they are still in the competition. Just.